If your heart is healthy, you're unlikely to develop endocarditis. Even most types of heart disease don't increase the risk of endocarditis. The germs that cause infection tend to stick to and multiply in damaged or surgically implanted heart valves.

Those at highest risk of endocarditis are those who have:

  • Artificial heart valves. Germs are more likely to attach to an artificial (prosthetic) heart valve than to a normal heart valve. The risk of infection is highest in the first year after implantation.
  • Congenital heart defects. If you were born with certain types of heart defects, your heart may be more susceptible to infection.
  • A history of endocarditis. An episode of endocarditis damages heart tissue and valves, increasing the risk of a future heart infection.
  • Damaged heart valves. Certain medical conditions — such as rheumatic fever or infection — can damage or scar one or more of your heart valves, making them more prone to endocarditis.
  • History of intravenous (IV) illegal drug use. People who use illegal drugs by injecting them are at a greater risk of endocarditis. The needles used to inject drugs are often contaminated with the bacteria that can cause endocarditis.

If you have a known heart defect or heart valve problem, ask your doctor about your risk of developing endocarditis. Even if your heart condition has been repaired or hasn't caused symptoms, you may be at risk.

Aug. 11, 2011