Infective endocarditis (IE) [also called bacterial endocarditis (BE), or subacute bacterial endocarditis (SBE) ] occurs when germs (especially bacteria) enter the bloodstream and attack the lining of the heart valves. Infective endocarditis causes growths or holes on the valve or scarring of the valve tissue, most often resulting in a leaky heart valve. Without treatment, endocarditis is a fatal disease.
Bacteria get into the bloodstream regularly when eating, during teeth brushing and when passing stools. Normal heart valves are very resistant to infection, but diseased valves have defects on the surface where bacteria may attach. The bacteria rapidly form colonies, grow vegetations and produce enzymes, destroying the surrounding tissue and opening the path for invasion. Dental procedures (particularly tooth extractions) and endoscopic examinations are associated with bacteria in the blood, so prophylactic (preventative) antibiotics are advised for patients with valve disease. Intravenous drug abusers are at high risk for developing IE. Learn more about endocarditis.
In many cases of endocarditis, antibiotics alone can cure the infection. However, in about 25-30 percent of patients with IE, surgery is needed during the early acute phase of infection due to severe valve leakage or failure to control the infection with antibiotics. Another 20-40 percent of patients will require surgery later. Patients who have had a prior valve replacement, and have an infected prosthetic valve (prosthetic valve endocarditis or PVE), are more likely to need surgery than those with their original valves (native valve endocarditis).
The timing of surgery, the type of surgery, and the antibiotics used to treat the endocarditis are based on several issues:
Evaluation of infective endocarditis includes:
Patients who require surgery more urgently include those with:
Other patients who may require surgical treatment for IE include patients with:
These patients should be evaluated by the surgeon. After the surgeon reviews the particular risk factors and extent of infection, an individualized decision is made on how and when to proceed with surgery.
Along with the type of microorganism, complications related to IE, and the extent of valve damage, the surgeon also looks at other factors when determining if and when to have surgery and the risks involved. These include transient ischemic events or stroke, the age of the patient, and intravenous drug abuse.
Surgical treatment of infective endocarditis is aimed at:
Surgery for endocarditis is very specialized and demanding. It requires extensive experience and familiarity with different reconstructive methods including the use of homografts (human cadaver valves). Transesophageal echocardiograms (TEE) performed before, during and after surgery help to guide the surgeon and ensure valve function is optimal.
Debridement - removal of infected tissue. If the infection has affected only the valve leaflets (cusps), removal of the infected matter will be sufficient. However, if the infection has affected more of the valve or into the heart tissue, then debridement will require a more technically difficult approach. Photo(s) of IE and valve debridement (please note: very graphic).
Valve reconstruction - depending on the specific surgical case, the surgeon will repair the valve or replace the valve with a new valve (valve prosthesis). The prosthesis may be biological, mechanical or a homograft. The homograft has proven to be particularly effective in cases with severe aortic valve endocarditis. In some cases of aortic valve IE, the Ross Procedure may be used. Photo(s) of IE and valve reconstruction (please note: very graphic).
Aortic Valve: destructive endocarditis caused by staph aureus, with abscess cavity under the pulmonary artery (aortic valve removed) (RCA - right coronary artery, LCA - left coronary artery, MV - mitral valve)
Aortic Valve: Prosthetic valve endocarditis with circumferential infection and dehiscence of the valve posteriorly (RCA - right coronary artery, LCA - left coronary artery)
Valve Debridement - removal of infected tissue. If the infection has affected only the valve leaflets (cusps), removal of the infected matter will be sufficient. However, if the infection has affected more of the valve or into the heart tissue, then debridement will require a more technically difficult approach
Aortic valve: same valve after debridement, cleaning up
Aortic Valve Endocarditis: After debridement (cleaning) and reconstruction with a homograft.
Valve reconstruction - depending on the specific surgical case, the surgeon will repair the valve or replace the valve with a new valve (valve prosthesis). The prosthesis may be biological, mechanical or a homograft. The homograft has proven to be particularly valuable in cases with severe aortic valve endocarditis. In some cases of aortic valve IE, the Ross Procedure may be used.
After surgery, patients with IE always require a complete six-week course of antibiotic therapy. The type of and duration of therapy will vary depending on the results of blood tests (cultures), the severity of infection, and possible other sources of infection.
Patients with IE have a greater chance of developing IE again and should take precautions to prevent future episodes. Fungal infections may require life-long treatment to prevent recurrence.
The recovery after heart surgery, is similar to other patients after heart valve surgery. However, the recovery may be slower, depending on the extent of illness prior to surgery.
Cleveland Clinic has the nation's largest valve surgery program.
Doctors vary in quality due to differences in training and experience; hospitals differ in the number of services available. The more complex your medical problem, the greater these differences in quality become and the more they matter.
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The Endocarditis Center provides comprehensive care to treat acute episodes of endocarditis; manage endocarditis non-responsive to medical therapies; and long-term care to prevent endocarditis from occurring in the future. The Endocarditis Center in the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute is a specialized center involving a multi-disciplinary group of specialists, including cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, infectious disease specialists, neurologists and behavior health specialists with expertise in treating endocarditis.
Surgeons in the Endocarditis Center are experts in the surgical treatment of valve disease. For more information, please contact us.
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See: About Us to learn more about the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute.
To obtain a surgical consultation or if you have additional questions or need more information, contact us, chat online with a nurse or call the Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute Resource & Information Nurse at 216.445.9288 or toll-free at 866.289.6911. We would be happy to help you.
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Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/19/2019.