All you ever wanted to know about Endocarditis
A look at the disease, who is at risk and how it can be prevented.
When we were in schools we likely learned about the heart, in our science lessons. We learned what it was responsible for and why it was essential that we took care of it. We learned about various heart diseases and what risks they posed. Endocarditis was likely not on most school curriculums, however it can be risky. Thinking back again to our school science lesson, we learned that the heart has 4 chambers. There is also an inner lining to those chambers known as the endocardium. Endocarditis is an infection that gets into this inner lining of the heart. It can be quite serious if not treated. However, it is a very treatable condition if picked up in time.
Endocarditis happens when germs from other parts of the body travel though the bloodstream and eventually reach the heart. If a heart has damaged areas than these germs can attach themselves. If the heart is healthy that this will not likely happen. Those that have healthy hearts run a very small risk of contracting this disease.
Endocarditis can strike in several different ways. Sometimes it strikes very slowly and masks itself behind other symptoms. There are incidences however where it strikes quite rapidly. There are several symptoms of Endocarditis. Anyone with a family history of heart disease and displaying a number of these symptoms would be well advised to see a doctor. Fever and Chills are quite common symptoms of the disease. They however can be attributed to other illnesses so don’t push the panic button if these are the only symptoms you are displaying. Heart murmurs as well as fatigue can be associated with Endocarditis. Aching joints, night sweats, and excessive fatigue are all common symptoms as well. Further symptoms include unexplained weight loss, blood in urine, water retention, shortness of breath, paleness, persistent cough and tenderness in the spleen.
Those most at risk for Endocarditis are those who have undergone previous heart valve replacement operations. Anyone with diseased heart valves also runs a much greater risk of contracting endocartists. People in these situations usually have to exercise extreme caution before undergoing any medical and even routine dental procedures. Usually antibiotics are giving beforehand to keep bacteria from entering the blood stream and attacking the heart valves.
There are several ways that bacteria can enter the bloodstream and cause endocarditis for those that are at risk. Bacteria can enter the blood stream through the mouth. A simple act like brushing ones teeth can pose as a risk factor for this disease. Those that have poor teeth and gums pose a particular risk. Remember, practice good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth at least twice a day. Keeping the bacteria levels low not only prevents tooth decay but for some people serious heart ailments.
Other infections or medical conditions can allow the bacteria to enter the blood stream. Getting on tops of these as soon as possible will help prevent the bacteria traveling to the heart and putting it in danger. It is important to share this information with your doctor if you are at risk of endocarditis.
Catheters or needles can cause bacteria to enter the blood stream. Having blood drawn at the doctor’s office or any medical facility usually isn’t an issue. Those that are most at risk from Needles or catheters are IV drug users.
It is important to remember that bacteria can enter our blood stream, however most of the time our immune system kills it. It can even travel to the heart and cause no damage once it arrives. Endocarditis is only really a risk for those with already weak or damaged hearts. Those with healthy hearts rarely contract this disease.
The best way to prevent Endocarditis is to take good care of your health. Make sure you get enough exercise to keep your heart healthy and strong. Remember, those with healthy hearts have little to fear. Maintaining good oral health is also vitally important. Lowering the risk of gum disease will greatly reduce the chances of bacteria entering the bloodstream. Avoid anything that could possibly lead to skin infections. Piercing and tattoos may be fashionable but they are risky. If you must have it done then make sure the establishment is licensed and practices good sanitary measures. Finally, sooner or later we all get infections of one type or another. Treat them promptly and seek medical advice.
Endocarditis is serious; however it is treatable and controllable. Those at risk should share this information with their health care professionals and follow all treatment advice. Those not at risk should insure that they are maintaining their hearts and their oral hygiene. For them, prevention is as good as a cure.