Bacteremia and Endocarditis

Bacteria exist everywhere in your body, in your mouth, in the lining of your stomach and intestines, on your skin. In most cases, these bacteria pose little to no threat to your wellness. But if dangerous bacteria from one part of our body gains access to another part, this can be serious.

Bacteremia is a condition in which bacteria from another body site gains access to the bloodstream. This is a very dangerous situation, as from here, the bacteria can get anywhere in the body, including the heart valves, where it can cause inflammation, or endocarditis. Treatment typically consists of IV therapy for a duration directed by the source of the spread into the blood stream in addition to the causative pathogen.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of endocarditis vary greatly, as the severity of the illness also ranges from mild to severe. The most common symptom is fever, but other symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • New rashes (some painful)
  • Headaches
  • Back and joint pain
  • Confusion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden weakness in the face or libs, suggestive of a stroke

If you have these symptoms, contact your physician immediately and request an examination. During the exam, a new heart murmur may be heard and other body changes noted. The combination of certain symptoms and findings from the exam will prompt your physician to consider endocarditis and refer you to our office.

Treatment of Endocarditis

The treatment of endocarditis typically requires intensive antimicrobial therapy, usually in the form of intravenous transfusion. The duration of the treatment depends on the spread and strength of the pathogen, but typical treatments can range from anywhere between two to six weeks. For some patients surgery is required to remove the infected tissue from the heart, to correct preexisting heart disease, or to repair heart valve damage caused by the infection. Common reasons for cardiac surgery during endocarditis include:

  • Heart failure
  • Uncontrolled infection
  • Significant valve dysfunction
  • Artificial valve infection
  • Extension of the infection into the heart (abscess formation)
  • Recurring bubbles (emboli) or particles in the bloodstream

Preventing Endocarditis

Because of the nature of the disease, the first step you can take in preventing endocarditis is to practice good hygiene. Brush and floss your teeth frequently, and shower daily.

If you have a preexisting heart abnormality, you may be predisposed to endocarditis. In these cases, your physician may prescribe antibiotics to prevent the condition. However, only a small percentage of cases can be prevented this way, even if antibiotics effectively prevented infective endocarditis and were used according to current guidelines.

It is important to talk to your physician, dentist, and other health care provider if you are concerned about infective endocarditis. These professionals can work with you to assess your risk and develop an appropriate management plan. Nothing is better than close communication between you and your health care providers.