Harvard Heart Letter

When an infection attacks the heart

The resulting inflammation can cause debilitating pain and may damage different parts of the heart.

heart infections dentist oral health
People with certain heart valve problems should take antibiotics before dental procedures to lower their risk of endocarditis.
Image: Monkey Business Images/Thinkstock

Nestled deep in the chest and covered in a protective layer of tissue, your heart usually fends off infections. But bacteria and viruses in the blood occasionally invade the heart, creating inflammation and other problems. Often, these problems are short-lived and relatively benign. But sometimes, the infection and resulting inflammation are more worrisome.

Heart infections are far less common than coronary artery disease, so people aren't as aware of them, says cardiologist Dr. Judy Mangion, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. "But because the consequences can be quite serious, it's important to know the risks and recognize the symptoms," she says.

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