Skip to main content

Health library

What is infective endocarditis?

If you have an enlarged heart, heart defects or a history of heart valve problems, you may be at risk.

Infective endocarditis, previously known as bacterial endocarditis, is an infection of the lining of the heart, a heart valve or a blood vessel.

The condition is rare, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Risk factors include:

  • Damaged, abnormal or artificial heart valves.
  • Congenital heart disease.
  • Intravenous drug use.
  • A history of endocarditis.

How does it happen?

Infective endocarditis develops when bacteria in the bloodstream stick to heart valves or tissue. Bacteria can enter the blood through many routes, from gums that bleed while you floss your teeth to an invasive surgical procedure. But only certain types of bacteria are likely to get lodged in the heart.

Most cases of infective endocarditis are not linked to any medical procedure, notes the AHA.

How is it treated?

Infective endocarditis is treated with antibiotics, usually delivered directly into a vein. If the infection damages heart tissues, surgery may be needed.

Anyone at high risk should call a doctor right away if they develop any symptoms of this infection. They can include:

  • Fever and chills.
  • Night sweats.
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight loss.
  • Joint pain.
  • Red lines under the fingernails, caused by bleeding.

What about prevention?

If you have heart problems, you can reduce your risk for infective endocarditis by taking good care of your teeth and gums. Good dental care can reduce the buildup of bacteria in the mouth and help prevent gum irritation and bleeding. And, if you wear dentures, have them fitted regularly.

If you are at high risk for severe heart damage from infective endocarditis, you may need to take preventive antibiotics before some dental procedures. People at high risk include those with:

  • An artificial heart valve.
  • A prior case of endocarditis.
  • Specific types of repaired or unrepaired congenital heart defects.
  • A heart transplant, who have also developed an abnormality in a heart valve.

Preventive antibiotics aren't recommended for people at lower risk for infective endocarditis, according to the AHA. But you should tell your doctors and dentist about your heart condition.

Reviewed 6/28/2021

Related stories