Endocarditis is a bacterial or fungal infection that affects the heart valves and sometimes the inner lining of the heart chambers. Although it is an uncommon heart condition, it can have very serious consequences when it does occur.
Bacterial endocarditis occurs when bacteria enters the bloodstream, multiplies, and causes an infection in the heart. These bacteria can get into the bloodstream through a variety of methods, including dental and medical procedures and especially during surgery in other areas of the body.
Any person can develop this condition, but patients with damaged heart valves are at greater risk. Bacteria have great difficulty attaching to the smooth lining of normal heart valves. Damaged valves, however, have rough surfaces that bacteria stick to more easily. After attaching to the lining of the valves, these bacteria multiply and develop an infection. It is important to treat endocarditis as soon as possible. Left untreated, this infection can lead to heart failure, stroke and infections in other parts of the body.
Cardiovascular specialists at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Heart & Vascular Center offer comprehensive inpatient and outpatient clinical services to adults with endocarditis, from diagnosis to innovative surgical valve repair and replacement therapies.
Patients with damaged heart valves or a heart valve replacement are at greater risk for developing endocarditis. There are a number of ways that bacteria can get into the bloodstream and cause an infection in these patients’ valves, including:
Endocarditis can also affect people who have:
Endocarditis symptoms, which may develop slowly or suddenly, include:
At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, our cardiovascular specialists provide expert evaluation and diagnosis with the aid of the latest in advanced imaging technologies. Along with performing a careful physical examination, your cardiologist may order one or more of the following imaging or lab tests:
Our cardiovascular specialists develop individualized treatment plans for patients based on:
Treatment may include:
If the antibiotic therapy fails to control the infection before severe valve damage occurs or the infection leads to embolization, surgery likely will be recommended. If valve damage is limited to the leaflets (flaps of tissue covering the valve openings) or the infection has spread into the heart, the following will be recommended:
The Heart & Vascular Center is located in the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, across the street from BWH’s main 75 Francis Street entrance. The Heart & Vascular Center brings together the full range of services in one location, fostering seamless and coordinated care for all cardiovascular patients.
If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Watkins Clinic for pre-operative information and tests.
The day of surgery, you care will be provided by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with endocarditis. After surgery, you will go to the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.
During your surgery, family and friends can wait in the Shapiro Family Center. Staff members will provide surgery updates and caregivers who leave the hospital will be contacted by cell phone.
Patients benefit from the teamwork of medical cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, cardiovascular imaging experts and radiologists, and anesthesiologists, all experts in endocarditis. They work alongside nurses, physician assistants, physical therapists, dietitians and social workers to achieve outstanding outcomes for our patients.
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