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Common germs that enter the bloodstream and get carried to the heart can sometimes infect the inner surface of the heart, including the ​heart valves. This rare, but serious, infection is called infective endocarditis (IE).

What is Endocarditis?

Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves. This lining is called the endocardium.

The term "endocarditis" also is used to describe an inflammation of the endocardium due to other conditions. This page only discusses endocarditis related to infection.

IE occurs if bacteria, fungi, or other germs invade your bloodstream and attach to abnormal areas of your heart. The infection can damage your heart and cause serious and sometimes fatal complications.

IE can develop quickly or slowly; it depends on what type of germ is causing it and whether you have an underlying heart problem. When IE develops quickly, it's called acute infective endocarditis. When it develops slowly, it's called subacute infective endocarditis.

Overview

IE mainly affects people who have:

  • Damaged or artificial heart valves
  • Congenital heart defects
  • Implanted medical devices in the heart of blood vessels

People who have normal heart valves also can have IE. However, the condition is much more common in people who have abnormal hearts.

Certain factors make it easier for bacteria to enter your bloodstream. These factors put you at higher risk for IE. For example, poor dental hygiene and unhealthy teeth and gums increase your risk for the infection.

Outlook

IE is treated with antibiotics for several weeks. You also may need heart surgery to repair or replace heart valves or remove infected heart tissue.

Most people who are treated with the proper antibiotics recover. But if the infection isn't treated, or if it persists despite treatment, it's usually fatal.

If you have signs or symptoms of IE, see your doctor as soon as you can, especially if you have abnormal heart valves.

Who is at Risk for Endocarditis?

IE is an uncommon condition that can affect both children and adults. It's more common in men than women.

IE typically affects people who have abnormal hearts or other conditions that put them at risk for the infection. Sometimes IE does affect people who were healthy before the infection.

Major Risk Factors

The germs that cause IE tend to attach and multiply on damaged, malformed, or artificial heart valves and implanted medical devices. Certain conditions put you at higher risk for IE. T​hese include:

  • Congenital heart defects. Examples include a malformed heart or abnormal heart valves.
  • Artificial heart valves, an implanted medical device in the heart, or an intravenous catheter in a blood vessel for a long time.
  • Heart valves damaged by rheumatic fever or calcium deposits that cause age-related valve thickening. Scars in the heart from a previous case of IE also can damage heart valves.
  • IV drug use, especially if needles are shared or reused, contaminated substances are injected, or the skin isn't properly cleaned before injection.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Why The Heart Hospital Baylor?

The Heart Hospital Baylor is home to one of the busiest vascular disease treatment programs in the country. However, it's not the volume, but rather the all-encompassing nature of our peripheral vascular services, advanced procedures and technologies offered, and outcomes that set us apart from so many other programs. Besides a robust portfolio of minimally invasive surgical interventions, we offer non-invasive studies of arteries and veins and always attempt non-surgical treatments when possible.

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