What Causes Endocarditis?

Endocarditis is an inflammatory condition of the endocardium, which is the inner lining of the heart chambers and heart valves. It is typically caused by an infection, and the most common organisms responsible for endocarditis are bacteria. Here are the key factors that contribute to the development of endocarditis:

  • Bacterial Infection:
    • Streptococcus and Staphylococcus Bacteria: These are the most common bacteria associated with infective endocarditis. Streptococcus viridans, Staphylococcus aureus, and other species can cause infections when they enter the bloodstream.
    • Enterococci: Enterococcus species, including Enterococcus faecalis, are another group of bacteria that can cause endocarditis.
  • Fungal Infection:
    • While less common, fungal infections, especially Candida species, can also cause endocarditis. Fungal endocarditis is often seen in individuals with weakened immune systems.
  • Bacteremia:
    • The bacteria that cause endocarditis typically enter the bloodstream through various means, such as dental procedures, surgical interventions, intravenous drug use, or infections in other parts of the body.
  • Heart Valve Abnormalities:
    • Individuals with pre-existing heart valve abnormalities, such as congenital heart defects or acquired valve diseases (e.g., rheumatic heart disease), are at an increased risk of developing endocarditis.
  • Prosthetic Heart Valves:
    • People who have undergone heart valve replacement with prosthetic (artificial) valves are at a higher risk of developing endocarditis. The artificial material may be more prone to bacterial attachment.
  • Intravenous Drug Use:
    • Sharing contaminated needles or injecting drugs can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream, leading to an increased risk of infective endocarditis.
  • Catheter-Related Infections:
    • The use of intravascular devices, such as catheters, for an extended period can increase the risk of bacterial entry into the bloodstream and subsequent endocarditis.
  • Dental Procedures:
    • Dental procedures that cause bleeding, such as tooth extractions or dental cleanings, can allow bacteria from the mouth to enter the bloodstream, posing a risk for individuals with certain heart conditions.
  • Weakened Immune System:
    • Conditions that weaken the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS or immunosuppressive therapy, increase the susceptibility to infections, including endocarditis.

Preventing endocarditis involves managing risk factors and, in certain cases, taking prophylactic antibiotics before dental or surgical procedures for individuals at higher risk. Prompt diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics are crucial for managing endocarditis and preventing complications such as heart valve damage and embolism. If there is suspicion of endocarditis, individuals should seek medical attention promptly.