Endocarditis is a potentially serious condition caused by bacteria (germs) collecting in the heart’s lining (endocardium), which then causes an infection. The infection stops the heart from working properly and can cause problems with other organs in the body. People with heart conditions usually have some damage to the lining of the heart, which makes it easier for bacteria to collect there.
Bacteria getting into the body
Bacteria can enter the body in a number of ways: via the gums where bacteria is often present, or any medical procedure where the skin is broken. You can reduce the risk of infection via gums by taking care of your teeth and going for regular dental check-ups.
Who's at risk?
Endocarditis is quite rare. The British Heart Foundation estimates that there are only about 1,500 cases each year in the UK and most of the people involved in those cases have:
- a diseased heart valve
- one or more artificial heart valves
- a congenital heart condition
- had surgery to correct a congenital heart condition
Endocarditis is usually diagnosed with blood tests, an echocardiogram (a painless ultrasound of your heart) and/or a CT scan.
It can be treated and cured with a course of antibiotics. These are usually given to you intravenously (through a drip) in hospital and treatment lasts several weeks.
Endocarditis can become life-threatening if left untreated.
You can take extra precautions against endocarditis. High risk patients are sometimes advised to take anibiotics before:
- dental procedures
- any medical procedures where the skin will be broken
- genitourinary and endoscopic procedures
- body piercing or tattooing.
This is called prophylactic (preventative) treatment, also known as antibiotic prophylaxis or antibiotic cover. This should kill bacteria that enter the body during these procedures and reduce the risk endocarditis. In the past, you may have had an endocarditis card that you have shown to healthcare professionals before any treatment.
Preventative treatment medical guidelines
The latest guidelines issued by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) suggest that antibiotics before dental and medical procedures are not needed for those at particular risk of endocarditis.
It is important to remember that these are guidelines for healthcare professionals and not a law. Some doctors may feel that in some cases prophylactic cover is needed.
Your surgeon or cardiologist will discuss this with you and advise whether he/she thinks antibiotics are suitable in your case.
If we do feel that you should take antibiotics before procedures, we will write to you explaining this.
You can then show our letter to other healthcare professionals as needed. Please ask if you have any questions about antibiotic cover.