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What is Endocarditis? by Chelsea Gamewell

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Endocarditis, also known as valve infection, is an uncommon and very serious infection that causes inflammation in the heart. It can be present in the heart muscles, valves, or the lining of the heart. The infection occurs when bacteria flows through the bloodstream and then attaches itself to damaged parts of the heart. Bacteria can get in the bloodstream from other parts of the body. There are multiple ways one can be at risk of getting endocarditis. Some of the risks include injecting drugs directly into the bloodstream, having heart surgery, permanent central venous access lines (used to administer medication or fluids into the neck, chest, or groin) or even dental surgery.

Dental surgery is a common way to get the infection because people frequently get dental work done as opposed to the other risks. Dentists are aware of this and take precautions, if they know one of their patients has heart deficiencies or has had the infection before. To prevent endocarditis from happening, the patient receives one dose of antibiotics one hour before the surgery to fight off bacteria, strictly only if you are at risk. Anyone with gingivitis is also at risk because it is caused by large amounts of bacteria found in plaque. When people with gum disease brush or floss their teeth they often begin to bleed due to their gums being so infected and inflamed. The blood is then swallowed and bacteria enters into the bloodstream. People with heart conditions are most likely to be susceptible to the infection. Others with healthy hearts, although it is very rare, can also be affected.

There are many symptoms associated with endocarditis. They can develop quickly or slowly over time. The most common symptoms include chills, excessive sweating, and fever. Other symptoms include joint pain, fatigue, abnormal urine color, weakness, new heart murmur, shortness of breath, and etc. If you develop any of these symptoms you need to see your doctor right away, because the infection can ultimately be fatal.

There are several tests used to detect whether someone has the infection or not. In a blood culture, a blood sample is taken and sent to the laboratory to check for bacteria present in the blood. This test can also be taken with any other bodily fluid. A chest x-ray can also be taken to see if your heart is inflamed. The x-ray is taken from the front of the chest and also from the side. A difference in the size, shape, or position of the heart determines a problem. A serology is another test taken by examining a sample of the patient’s blood. Instead of directly looking for the infection, the doctor looks for evidence of being exposed to a particular microorganism, which symbolizes an infection being present.

People with the condition need to be hospitalized for several days getting antibiotics injected directly into their veins to fight off the infection. Depending on how bad the infection is, the patient can be receiving treatment anywhere from four to six weeks. If the damage in the heart is permanent, heart surgery will be necessary. Early diagnosis and treatment are extremely important. Early treatment improves your chances of a good outcome, but valve destruction or strokes can result in death.


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