Endocarditis (bacterial infection) cardiology

Endocarditis What Increases Your Risk?

If you have a normal  heart, you have a low risk for endocarditis. But if you have a problem with your heart that affects normal blood flow through the heart, it is more likely that bacteria or fungi will attach to heart tissue. This puts you at a higher risk for endocarditis.

You have a higher risk of endocarditis if you have:

  • Had endocarditis in the past
  • Certain congenital heart defects
  • Abnormal or damaged heart valves from diseases like rheumatic fever
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • Artificial heart valve (or valves)
  • Device in your heart like pacemaker or defibrillator
  • Catheter (tube) in a blood vessel for a prolonged period
  • Hemodialysis for kidney failure, especially if done through a catheter
  • Intravenous illegal drug use
  • HIV

Exams and Tests

If your doctor suspects you have endocarditis, he or she may order certain tests to confirm the diagnosis. Tests include:

  • Blood tests, in particular a “blood culture” to check for the presence of bacteria in your bloodstream. The results, which can take a few days to receive, also provide information about what medicine should be used to treat the type of bacteria causing the infection.
  • An ultrasound of the heart (transthoracic echocardiogram) to check for endocarditis. A probe is placed on your chest while you are lying down and images are taken. A physician looks closely at the heart valves to determine if they are infected. Infection of the valves may appear as a growth on the valve, which may not be working properly.

If the transthoracic echocardiogram fails to confirm an infection, you may have another type of heart ultrasound, called a transesophageal echocardiogram. For this procedure, you are given medications to help you relax. A probe is passed down the esophagus (food pipe). This provides clear images of the heart valves because the heart lies directly in front of the esophagus.

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