Antibiotics for heart problems

Some heart problems can put you at risk for an infection in the heart called endocarditis. These heart conditions include:

If you have any of these heart conditions, you may need to take antibiotics before you have certain dental or surgical procedures that could put bacteria or fungi into your blood. The antibiotics lower your risk of getting endocarditis.

If you need antibiotics, your doctor will select an antibiotic based on your ability to take oral medicine and on any medicine allergies that you may have. Taking the right antibiotic may prevent endocarditis.

Why not everyone should use antibiotics

Although antibiotics are useful in minimizing the risk of endocarditis, your doctor may not always recommend them, in order to protect your health. The medical community has several reasons for not advising all people with valve problems to take antibiotics:

  • Taking antibiotics may not be necessary.
  • Taking antibiotics may be dangerous to your health if you are allergic to the drug.
  • Taking excessive antibiotics promotes the development of stronger, antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are harder to kill with currently available medicines.

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria (such as those that cause endocarditis) develop the ability to resist drugs that were previously able to kill them. Although antibiotic resistance is most common in situations that involve improper, unnecessary, and incomplete use of prescription antibiotics, resistance can also develop through correct antibiotic usage.

Antibiotic resistance is dangerous, because one type of bacteria can acquire the ability to survive certain drugs and then exchange this ability with other types of bacteria. When resistance to a particular medicine is widespread, the antibiotic becomes ineffective, and scientists must find an adequate replacement. Since the only way for bacteria to develop resistance is through exposure to these antibiotics, doctors try to use these drugs only when appropriate and necessary, reducing the chances of resistance.

Always attempt to prevent antibiotic resistance, since resistant bacteria are more dangerous to your valves. This can be done by:

  • Completing the course of drugs that you have been given. Antibiotics generally take several days to kill bacteria, and if you take a partial course, you are teaching bacteria to survive the antibiotic.
  • Not stockpiling partial prescriptions and self-dosing with antibiotics.

Last Updated: April 16, 2009

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