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How to Prevent Heart Infections


Preventing Endocarditis
Publications International, Ltd. Endocarditis has the potential to destroy heart valves.

Endocarditis is an infection of the endocardium, which is the inner lining of the heart. The infection occurs when microorganisms travel through the bloodstream and get stuck on (usually) an abnormal heart valve, or, rarely, on damaged heart tissue. Once these interlopers begin collecting on the heart valves, they can destroy them.

Symptoms of endocarditis develop about two weeks after infection begins. Endocarditis usually begins with mild symptoms, such as fever and fatigue, that lead to more serious signs, such as weight loss, night sweats, painful joints, shortness of breath, persistent cough, blood in the urine, and petechiae (tiny purple or red spots on the skin). If left untreated, endocarditis can cause heart failure and death. Endocarditis is treated with antibiotics that are usually given intravenously for four to six weeks, but surgery might be necessary if a heart valve is damaged. Some more aggressive forms of endocarditis can destroy heart valves within days if left untreated.

At-risk people need to be aware of situations that can cause bacteremia. Having any kind of dental work or surgery that involves the stomach, intestines, prostate, or gallbladder may increase your chances of developing endocarditis.

The Culprit

Bacteria (and sometimes fungi) that enter the bloodstream (a bacterial infection of the blood is called bacteremia) and travel to the heart valves cause endocarditis.

Who's at Risk?

Most people with healthy hearts have a very slight chance of getting endocarditis. However, if you have artificial heart valves, damaged heart valves, congenital heart or valve defects, or if you've had a previous bout of endocarditis, you are more likely to fall prey to this infection.

Defensive Measures

 

Always alert your physician or any other health professional if you are at risk of developing the infection. The American Heart Association has created an endocarditis information wallet card for health professionals that has treatment guidelines. The card is available at www.americanheart.org.

If you are scheduled for dental work or surgery or are getting a piercing or tattoo, talk with your physician. Most of the time, you will need to start on a round of antibiotics before your procedure to keep any enemy bacteria from setting up camp.

Another dangerous heart infection is rheumatic fever, a rare inflammation of the heart or other body parts like the joints, nervous system, or skin. Symptoms include a sore throat, inflamed tonsils, fever, headache, and aching muscles. Read about rheumatic fever on the next page.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.