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Endocarditis - Topic Overview

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Endocarditis is an infection of the heart's valves or its inner lining (endocardium). It is most common in people who have a damaged, diseased, or artificial heart valve.

Endocarditis is caused by bacteria (or, in rare cases, by fungi) that enter the bloodstream and settle on the inside of the heart, usually on the heart valves. Bacteria can invade your bloodstream in many ways, including during some dental, surgical, and medical procedures. If you don't take care of your teeth, having your teeth cleaned or even brushing your teeth can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream.

See a picture of endocarditis camera.gif.

If you have a normal heart, you have a low risk for endocarditis. But if you have a problem with your heart that affects normal blood flow through the heart camera.gif, it is more likely that bacteria or fungi will attach to heart tissue. Some health care procedures or implanted devices may raise your risk for endocarditis. This is because they can let bacteria or fungi enter your bloodstream.

You have a higher risk of endocarditis if you have:

Not all heart problems give you a higher risk of endocarditis. You do not have a higher risk if you have:

If you have certain heart conditions, getting endocarditis is even more dangerous for you. These heart conditions include:

If you have any of these heart conditions, you may need to take antibiotics before you have certain dental and surgical procedures. The antibiotics lower your risk of getting endocarditis. If you do not have these conditions, antibiotics are not likely to help you.

Procedures that may require antibiotics include:

  • Certain dental work or dental surgery.
  • Lung surgery.
  • Surgery on infected skin, bone, or muscle tissue.
  • Certain medical procedures, such as a biopsy.

Practicing good oral hygiene is especially important to prevent endocarditis if you are at risk.

Your doctor can give you a card to carry in your wallet. The card states that you may need preventive antibiotics before certain procedures.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 27, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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