DefinitionThe endocardium is a thin layer of membrane (tissue) that covers the inner surface of the heart. Bacterial endocarditis is an infection of this membrane. Infection occurs when bacteria attach to the membrane and grow. The infection is most common when the heart or valves have already been damaged. It can permanently damage the heart valves. This can lead to serious health problems, such as heart failure . Bacterial endocarditis can be life-threatening.
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CausesBacterial endocarditis is caused by specific bacteria. Bacteria can travel to the heart through the blood. It can enter the blood from an infection somewhere else in the body. It can also enter during an activity that causes breaks in the skin or tissues. This activity can be dental work, surgery, or IV drug use.The bacteria may be able to attach to the endocardium. Some heart conditions can increase the chance of infections. These conditions may cause blood flow to be blocked or to pool. This provides a place for the bacteria to build up.
Risk FactorsThe following conditions put you at greater risk during certain procedures:
- Heart valve scarring, due to rheumatic fever or other conditions
- Artificial heart valve
- Heart defect present at birth
- Prior episode of endocarditis
- Mitral valve prolapse , with significant regurgitation (abnormal backflow of blood)
- IV drug use—risk is very high when needles are shared
- Any dental procedure, even cleanings
- Removal of tonsils or adenoids , and other procedures involving the ears, nose, and throat
- Viewing the airways though a thin, lighted tube— bronchoscopy
- Surgery on the gastrointestinal or urinary tracks, including the gallbladder and prostate
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