Heart valve abnormalities may exist at birth. Some require early medical attention while others may go undetected until later in life. Certain infections as well as rheumatic fever may damage heart valves. The aging process can also take its toll on valve tissue. Any of these conditions can cause a valve to become thickened (stenosis). The valve then cannot open freely. Valves can also become weakened and fail to close tightly (insufficiency). The aortic and mitral valves are the most often affected.
Heart valve problems cause the heart to work harder. If the heart isn’t able to keep up this work load, heart failure occurs. Fluid backs up into the lung and other body parts. This causes shortness of breath, swelling, coughing or extreme weakness. Medications can improve heart function, but sometimes surgery is needed.
Prevention of Bacterial Endocarditis
Anyone who has heart valve disease or has had heart valve surgery is at risk for bacterial endocarditis. This is an infection of the heart or heart valves that can occur when bacteria (germs) enter your blood stream and lodge inside your heart. When you are at risk for this infection, you will need antibiotic therapy for:
- Any dental work (including professional cleaning).
- Some diagnostic tests or procedures for the bowel or urinary tract (examples: colonoscopy, cystoscopy, prostate surgery).
- Removal of tonsils (tonsillectomy).
- Surgical procedures of any infected tissue (drainage of abscesses).
- Some diagnostic tests and procedures of the throat or lungs (example: Bronchoscopy).
If you are at risk for endocarditis, you will be given a “Bacterial Endocarditis Card” to carry in your wallet. This will help your doctor or dentist decide on the kind of antibiotic and dosage you should be given.
Symptoms of endocarditis can be vague. Fever, sweating, chills, tiredness and appetite loss that last for 2-3 days should be reported to your doctor. Blood cultures are drawn when endocarditis is suspected. Antibiotics are given to treat this disease.