Too Few Heart Patients Take Antibiotics Before Dental Work
Manning's study looked at about 200 patients seen at the Beth Israel
Deaconess Medical Center in December 1997. As directed by the new AHA
guidelines, all the study patients had an echocardiogram, a test that uses
sound waves to look at the heart and its valves.
Almost half of the patients who took part in the study had abnormal
echocardiograms, suggesting that they needed antibiotics before dental work.
Almost 90% of the patients who were at high risk for heart infection were told
by their doctors to use preventive antibiotics, but only 60% of those at
moderate risk got this advice. About 25% of those at low risk of heart
infection -- who the AHA guidelines say don't need antibiotics -- were
instructed to take them.
"The problems with taking antibiotics when you don't need them are the
inconvenience, the cost, and the risk of an allergic reaction," Manning
says. "On the other hand, if you need antibiotics and don't take them,
there could be a life-threatening complication."
When asked for his recommendations, Manning says: "If you're taking
antibiotics and it's been awhile since your situation has been reviewed, you
should ask your doctor if you still need them. If you've had an echocardiogram
and you're not using antibiotics for dental procedures, you should ask your
doctor to review the echocardiogram to see if you do need them."
Although most patients in Manning's study followed their doctor's advice to
take antibiotics, 13% did not. Better education for both doctors and patients
may allow more appropriate antibiotic use while avoiding misuse, the study
- People with certain heart conditions, especially those involving the heart
valves, should take antibiotics one hour before dental work or similar
procedures to avoid a potentially fatal heart infection called
- A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association
showed that about 40% of those who should take preventive antibiotics were not
advised by their doctors to do so, and about 25% of those who are at low risk
of endocarditis take antibiotics needlessly.
- Patients with valve problems or other heart conditions should have an
echocardiogram, and should consult their doctors about preventive antibiotic