How to Prevent Heart Infections


Serious infections of the heart have nothing to do with being lovesick. Although endocarditis and Rheumatic fever are relatively rare, they do require prompt medical attention. Pay attention to symptoms like fever, fatigue, weight loss, painful or inflamed joints, blood in the urine, or tiny spots on your skin. These infections can be treated if you detect them fast enough.

In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about preventing endocarditis and rheumatic fever. Here's a preview:

  • Preventing EndocarditisEndocarditis arises when bacteria or fungi enter your bloodstream and reach your heart valves, infecting the endocardium, the inner lining of your heart. Surgeries, tattoos, or even simple procedures like dental work can place you at risk for endocarditis. Initial symptoms include fever and fatigue, followed by weight loss, night sweats, painful joints, shortness of breath, persistent coughs, blood in the urine, and tiny purple or red spots on the skin called petechiae. Endocarditis is treated with antibiotics and sometimes surgery. If ignored, it can kill you. In this section, we'll outline the best ways to prevent endocarditis.
  • Preventing Rheumatic FeverA strep throat, inflamed tonsils, fever, headache, or aching muscles are all early symptoms of rheumatic fever, an infection from group A Streptococcus bacteria. As your body fights the bacteria infection, the heart or other body parts -- including the joints, nervous system, and skin -- become inflamed. This can lead to heart valve damage, heart failure, or endocarditis. Rheumatic fever is treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Learn more about rheumatic fever on this 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.

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.

Preventing Rheumatic Fever

Publications International, Ltd. Children have the greatest chance of developing rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever is a rare inflammation of the heart and other body parts (joints, nervous system, and skin) that usually results from a bout with strep throat. People who develop rheumatic fever tend to have an abnormal immune response to some strains of the Streptococcus bacterium. As their bodies fight this bacterial infection, inflammation occurs in their joints and the tissues of the heart and its internal valves.

Initial symptoms of rheumatic fever are those of strep throat -- sore throat, inflamed tonsils, fever, headache, and aching muscles. Swollen and painful joints (mostly in the knees, elbows, ankles, and wrists) later develop with abdominal pain, skin rash, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Most signs of rheumatic fever appear about one week to six weeks after a case of strep throat.

Complications of rheumatic fever include heart valve damage; heart failure; endocarditis; erratic heartbeats (arrhythmias); and a rare condition called Sydenham's chorea that causes moodiness, weakened muscles, and jerky movements of the face, feet, and hands. Rheumatic fever is treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. People typically recover fully but might need to take low-dose antibiotics for a number of years to prevent any recurrences and further damage to the heart.

The Culprit

Rheumatic fever is a complication of infection with group A Streptococcus bacteria.

Who's at Risk?

 

Children between the ages of 6 and 15 (more often girls) are at the highest risk of developing rheumatic fever. Those who have weakened immune systems are also more susceptible.

Defensive Measures

Some cases of rheumatic fever can occur following a "silent" strep throat infection that has no symptoms. The best defense against rheumatic fever is to treat a documented strep throat infection with antibiotics as soon as symptoms appear. If sore throat with a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit lasts more than 24 hours, contact a physician. Remember, rheumatic fever can lead to heart failure, valve damage or endocarditis, and thus, could be deadly. Look for the symptoms of these heart infections and act to ward off disaster.

Now that you're armed with information about rheumatic fever and endocarditis, you can take measures to prevent getting either infection.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Michele Price Mann is a freelance writer who has written for such publications as Weight Watchers and Southern Living magazines. Formerly assistant health and fitness editor at Cooking Light magazine, Mann has a professional passion for learning and writing about health issues.

ABOUT THE CONSULTANT:

Dr. Larry Lutwick is a Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York - Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, New York, and Director of Infectious Diseases, Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Health Care System, Brooklyn Campus. He is also Bacterial Diseases Moderator for the real time online infectious diseases surveillance system, Program for Monitoring  Emerging Diseases (ProMED-mail). He has authored more than 100 medical articles and 15 book chapters. He has edited two books on infectious diseases.

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.