Learning About Endocarditis

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What is endocarditis?

Anatomy of the heart

Endocarditis (say "en-doh-kar-DY-tus") is an infection of the heart's valves or inner lining of the heart. It is most often caused by bacteria. It also can be caused by fungi. The bacteria or fungi get into the bloodstream. They settle and grow on the inside of the heart, usually on the heart valves. Bacteria or fungi can enter the bloodstream in many ways, such as through some dental and medical procedures.

This infection can damage your heart. You need to treat it as soon as possible.

People who have a normal heart are not likely to get endocarditis. But some people are more likely to get it than others. This includes people who have a heart problem that affects normal blood flow, such as a heart valve problem, or people who inject illegal drugs.

Endocarditis can be very serious. It may be more dangerous for people who:

  • Have an artificial heart valve.
  • Have had this kind of infection before.
  • Have had certain heart problems since birth.
  • Have heart valve problems after a heart transplant.

What are the symptoms?

At first you may feel like you have the flu. You might have a mild fever and feel tired. Other symptoms may include weight loss, night sweats, and painful joints.

You may not think these symptoms are cause for worry. But if you are at risk for endocarditis or the symptoms do not go away, call your doctor or nurse call line.

How can you prevent endocarditis?

  • Practice good oral hygiene by brushing and flossing your teeth daily. See a dentist twice each year. Tell your dentist that you are at risk for this infection.
  • You may need to take antibiotics before some dental and medical procedures if you:
    • Have an artificial heart valve.
    • Have had endocarditis before.
    • Have had certain heart problems since birth.
    • Have heart valve problems after a heart transplant.

Ask your doctor or dentist if you need antibiotics to prevent this infection. Find out when you will need to take them.

Your doctor may give you a card that says you may need preventive antibiotics before some procedures. You can keep it in your wallet.

How is it treated?

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics or antifungal medicine given through a small tube placed in a vein (IV). You may need several weeks of treatment. You might also take antibiotic pills.
  • Surgery to repair or replace heart valves.

You may have follow-up visits for months or years to check the health of your heart.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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