What Is It?
Endocarditis, also called infective endocarditis, is an infection and inflammation of the heart valves and the inner lining of the heart chambers, which is called the endocardium. Endocarditis occurs when infectious organisms, such as bacteria or fungi, enter the bloodstream and settle in the heart. In most cases, these organisms are streptococci ("strep"), staphylococci ("staph") or species of bacteria that normally live on body surfaces.
The infecting organism enters the bloodstream through a break in the skin caused by a skin disorder or injury; a medical or dental procedure; or a skin prick, especially among intravenous drug users.
Depending on the aggressiveness (virulence) of the infecting germ, the heart damage caused by endocarditis can be swift and severe (acute endocarditis) or slower and less dramatic (subacute endocarditis).
Men develop endocarditis more often than women, and the illness is more common among people who have one or more of the following risk factors:
In about 20% to 40% of patients who do not have artificial heart valves and who do not use intravenous drugs, no heart problem can be identified that would increase their risk of endocarditis. In the 10% to 20% of endocarditis patients who have artificial heart valves, infections that follow within 60 days of valve surgery often are caused by a staphylococcus, while endocarditis that occurs later most frequently is caused by a streptococcus.
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