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 , it is more likely that bacteria or fungi will attach to heart tissue. This puts you at a higher risk for endocarditis.
If you have certain heart conditions, getting endocarditis is even more dangerous for you. These heart conditions include:
- Artificial heart valves.
- Endocarditis in the past.
- Heart defects since birth (congenital heart defects).
- Heart valve problems after a heart transplant.
If you have any of these heart conditions, you may need to take antibiotics before you have certain dental or surgical procedures that could put bacteria or fungi into your blood. The antibiotics lower your risk of getting endocarditis. If you do not have these conditions, antibiotics are not likely to help you.
For more information, read about what procedures may require antibiotics to prevent endocarditis.
Talk to your doctor or dentist
Your doctor can tell you whether you need to take antibiotics. Before you have any medical, dental, or surgical procedures, tell all other health professionals who may treat you that you are at risk for endocarditis.
Your doctor can issue you a special card to carry in your wallet if you require preventive antibiotics before certain dental or surgical procedures. Your condition and specific antibiotic requirements are outlined on this card. The card is signed by your doctor.
Why not everyone should use antibiotics
Antibiotics are useful in minimizing the risk of endocarditis. But in order to protect your health, your doctor may not always recommend them. The medical community has several reasons for not advising all people with valve problems to take antibiotics:
- Taking antibiotics may not be needed.
- Taking antibiotics may be dangerous to your health if you are allergic to the drug.
- Taking excessive antibiotics promotes the development of stronger, antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are harder to kill with currently available medicines.
Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria (such as those that cause endocarditis) have the ability to resist drugs that were previously able to kill them. Antibiotic resistance is most common in situations that involve improper, unneeded, and incomplete use of prescription antibiotics. But resistance can also occur through correct antibiotic usage.
Antibiotic resistance is dangerous, because one type of bacteria can acquire the ability to survive certain drugs and then exchange this ability with other types of bacteria. When resistance to a particular medicine is widespread, the antibiotic becomes ineffective. Then scientists must find an adequate replacement. The only way for bacteria to develop resistance is through exposure to these antibiotics. So doctors try to use these drugs only when appropriate and necessary. This reduces the chances of resistance.
Always try to prevent antibiotic resistance, since resistant bacteria are more dangerous to your valves. This can be done by:
- Completing the course of drugs that you have been given. Antibiotics typically take several days to kill bacteria. If you take a partial course, you are teaching bacteria to survive the antibiotic.
- Not stockpiling partial prescriptions and self-dosing with antibiotics.