Several of the most common types of heart infections include endocarditis, which is an infection of the lining of the heart, or of heart valves inside the heart. In most cases, endocarditis is caused by bacteria. Another heart infection, called pericarditis, is an infection of the sac that surrounds and cushions the heart, called the pericardial sac. Most commonly referred to as a membrane, pericarditis causes inflammation of this membrane. Rheumatic fever is another common heart infection, and is an inflammatory disease that will attack tissues of the heart. Left untreated, rheumatic fever may cause permanent damage to heart valves.
Symptoms of heart infections will vary based on type of infection, age of individual and overall general health and stamina. Symptoms of endocarditis commonly include high fever and chills, and in most, extreme weakness and fatigue. Symptoms of pericarditis may include chest pain, most often described as sharp, or a radiating ache throughout the chest, neck and shoulder area. Symptoms of rheumatic fever may include arthritic-type symptoms, and jerking movements, rash and sometimes bumps that can be felt on the bones.
Good dental hygiene and health may be crucial in preventing heart valve infection, according to research reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
In a study of 290 dental patients, researchers investigated several measures of bacteremia (bacteria released into the bloodstream) during three different dental activities - tooth brushing, a single tooth extraction with a preventive antibiotic and a single tooth extraction with a placebo.
As expected, researchers found bacteria in the blood more often with the two extraction groups than with the brushing group. However, the incidence of bacteremia from brushing was closer to an extraction than expected. "This suggests that bacteria get into the bloodstream hundreds of times a year, not only from tooth brushing, but also from other routine daily activities like chewing food," said the study's lead author Peter Lockhart, D.D.S.
They found that bacteria enter the bloodstream in most patients early on during a dental extraction or tooth brushing, and that bacteria can still be found in the blood as long as an hour after these procedures in a small number of cases.
"If you stop oral hygiene measures, the amount of disease in your mouth goes up considerably and progressively and you'll have far worse oral disease," Lockhart said. "It's the gingival (gum) disease and dental caries (decay), that lead to chronic and acute infections such as abscesses. It's that sort of thing that puts you at risk for frequent bacteremia and presumably endocarditis if you have a heart or other medical condition that puts you at risk."
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