The medical term endocarditis is used to describe the inflammation of the heart’s inner layer. The inner layer of the heart is called the endocardium. When the endocardium becomes infected it is due to the growth of bacteria on one of the heart’s 4 valves. The infection is a mass that can be caused by bacteria in the bloodstream. Sometimes, bacteria gets into the bloodstream after a procedure such as a colonoscopy, dental work, minor surgery, gynecological exams, urological exams or other medical procedures that can cause bacteria to enter into the blood.

Some people who have diseases involving the heart are typically put on antibiotic medications prior to having a medical procedure. These antibiotics can help prevent the spread of bacteria throughout the bloodstream. Some of the conditions that may cause someone to be at risk include mitral stenosis, mitral regurgitation, and aortic stenosis. People who have had heart valve replacements surgery are also at a greater risk.

Signs of endocarditis can include fatique, night sweats, fever, chills, weakness, aching in the muscles and joints, fluid retention known as edema, shortness of breath, malaise, anemia, blood in the urine, heart murmurs, elevated white blood cell counts and possibly small skin lesions.

If endocarditis is suspected, one should see a doctor immediately. A doctor may perform a blood test to determine the type of bacteria that is causing the infection. An echocardiography is the term used for having an ultrasound on the heart. This procedure may be performed to look at the heart to detect the valve vegetation, or mass, that is infected. A Transesophageal Echocardiography is the most accurate form of detecting the mass and involves using an echo-transducer. The echo-transducer is placed on top of a flexible endoscope and inserted into the mouth and down through the esophagus to take pictures of the heart. Endocarditis can exist without a noticeable infected mass so the blood tests are very important for detecting the type of bacteria that is causing the problem.

Once the type of bacteria that is causing the infection has been determined, the endocarditis is typically treated with antibiotics. The treatments should be aggressive and can consist of 4 to 6 weeks of intravenously administered antibiotics. Depending on the type of bacteria and the severity of the case will determine the type of antibiotics given and how aggressively the infection is treated. There is the possibility of needing surgery if the infection has caused significant damage to the heart valve. In these cases heart valve replacement surgery may be the only remedy.

Follow up examinations may insist of more blood tests and echocardiograms to make sure the infection and bacteria are in fact fading. If the patient starts feeling better and the side effects start to disappear then that is another positive sign that the course of treatment is successful.

Anytime the heart is involved in a medical condition makes the condition very serious. It is important to seek medical help at the first signs of endocarditis. In order to prevent the infection from causing irreparable damage to one of the heart valves it is crucial to start the diagnosis and treatment processes as early as possible. If the condition is caught early enough, the infection may be cured by a series of antibiotics rather than needing heart valve replacement surgery.

If you are going to be having a medical procedure and you know that you have a pre-existing heart condition, make sure your doctor is made aware. Often the thought of having a minor medical procedure performed does not seem like a big deal, but for some a small procedure can lead to a much more complicated condition.

Last updated on Aug 1st, 2009 and filed under Cardiovascular Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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