Bacterial Endocarditis

What is bacterial endocarditis?

Bacterial endocarditis is an infection of the lining of the heart. It occurs when bacteria (germs) enter the bloodstream and lodge inside the heart, where they multiply and cause infection.

Although anyone can get bacterial endocarditis, those with a congenital heart defect may have a higher risk. This is because people with congenital heart disease may have a rough area on the heart lining, caused by a leaky or narrow valve, abnormal connections inside the heart or previous surgery. These rough areas or materials placed from a previous surgery or catheter procedure are potential places for bacteria to take hold and multiply.

Bacterial endocarditis does not occur very often, but when it does, it can cause serious heart damage and is potentially life threatening.

What are the symptoms of bacterial endocarditis?

The most common sign of bacterial endocarditis in children with a congenital heart defect is a fever. Other symptoms may include:

  • poor appetite
  • fatigue
  • rapid breathing
  • joint pain
  • rash
  • weight loss

What are the causes of bacterial endocarditis?

Bacterial endocarditis can occur when bacteria enter the body and grow on the heart lining. In children and adults with congenital heart disease, this can happen after one of the following procedures:

  • dental procedures (including teeth cleaning)
  • surgery to remove tonsils or adenoids (tonsillectomy or adenoidectomy)
  • surgery on the respiratory passageways, the gastrointestinal tract or the urinary tract
  • skin or toenail infections

Sometimes the cause is unknown or it can result from another type of infection.

How we care for bacterial endocarditis

Here at the Boston Children’s Hospital Benderson Family Heart Center, our expert team provides inpatient and outpatient care for patients with congenital heart disease. The treatment for bacterial endocarditis is both medical and surgical and requires a coordinated team of clinicians from various specialties to ensure the most successful outcome. When surgery is required for valve infection, our surgeons specialize in valve repair and avoiding replacement whenever possible. We repair valves that are traditionally repaired at other centers.