What Is Endocarditis?

Inflammation of the smooth interior lining of the heart known as the endocardium and the heart valves is called endocarditis. Learn all about it!

Inflammation of the smooth interior lining of the heart known as the endocardium and the heart valves is called endocarditis. This inflammation is, in most cases, the result of a bacterial infection. In some cases infective endocarditis may be caused by fungi, but in either case the bacteria enters the blood stream lodging on the heart valves and infecting the endocardium. Contamination has also been known to occur during some cases of open heart surgery. Any abnormality of the heart valves or damage causes susceptibility to this infection, but even normal healthy valves can be infected by some of the more aggressive forms of this bacteria. In some cases large numbers of the bacteria and blood clots accumulate on the valves. These can break loose and move to vital organs in the body where they block arterial blood flow and cause very serious obstructions.

Infective endocarditis has been known to cause strokes, heart attacks, infection and damage in the areas where the obstructions have lodged. This condition can come on quite suddenly and become a life threatening situation within days. In some cases it may develop gradually over a period of weeks or months. The bacteria can enter the blood through an injury to the skin, gums or lining of the mouth. Even small injuries from brushing the teeth or chewing have been known to allow a small amount of bacteria to invade the blood stream. In cases of gingivitis, which is an infective inflammation of the gums, minor infections of the skin, some dental procedures, medical procedures or surgical procedures and other bodily infections can allow a minor amount of bacteria to enter the blood stream an increase the chances of endocarditis.

Acute bacterial endocarditis will usually begin with symptoms such as a high fever that comes on suddenly, a fast heart rate, a feeling of exhaustion, rapid and extensive heart valve damage. With subacute bacterial endocarditis symptoms can last for months produce a mild fever, wight loss, tiredness, sweating and anemia. Acute bacterial endocarditis produces a dislodged endocardial emboli that travels to other areas creating additional infection sites and causing serious damage. In some cases the patient will go into shock or have their kidneys and other organs stop functioning. Infection of the arteries will weaken the blood vessel walls causing them to rupture which is fatal when in the area of the heart or brain. With subacute bacterial endocarditis a doctors examination may find a new heart murmur or different sound if a heart murmur already exist. There is also the possibility of an enlarged spleen, small spots that resemble tiny freckles on the skin and similar spots on the whites of the eyes or under the finger nails. Other symptoms of both types of endocarditis may include joint pain, chills, confusion, blood in the urine and painful nodules under the skin.

The best way to prevent endocarditis if you have heart valve abnormalities, congenital defects or artificial valves in the heart is to ask to be given antibiotics prior to dental or surgical procedures. In most of the cases given above a doctor will see this as a reasonable precaution. Treatment under normal conditions consist of a minimum of two weeks of a high dose of antibiotics that is given intravenously.

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