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Endocarditis is an infection that occurs in the lining or valves of the heart. The infections are most often bacterial, but they can also be viral or fungal. Some medical conditions that cause the blood to clot too easily may cause a noninfectious form of endocarditis.
Bacterial infections are the most common cause of endocarditis in children. When bacteria get into the bloodstream they flow through the body and eventually into the heart. In a healthy heart the inner lining and valves are smooth, and it is very rare for the bacteria to find a place to lodge. In a heart that has been damaged, the lining and/or valves may have rough areas; it is here that the bacteria find a place to lodge and grow, ultimately infecting and damaging the heart, even causing harm that can't be repaired, leading to heart failure.
Children born with certain congenital heart conditions or who have chronic heart disease are at a higher risk for endocarditis. In addition, once a child has had endocarditis he or she may be more susceptible to getting it again. Some conditions that increase a child's risk of endocarditis include:
If your pediatrician suspects that your child may have endocarditis, your child will need further evaluation to determine the cause and extent of the infection. This will help to determine the proper course of treatment. When you visit the pediatric cardiologist, a medical history of your child will be taken, along with a thorough physical exam. The doctor will listen for any heart rhythm abnormalities, such as a heart murmur. Because the bacteria that lead to endocarditis usually enter through the bloodstream, blood tests will be needed, including a complete blood count (CBC) and a blood culture to determine the specific type of bacteria in the bloodstream. An echocardiogram, or echo, will be performed as well. This is a painless, noninvasive procedure that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of your child's heart and heart valves. This will enable the pediatric cardiology team to evaluate the structure and function of your child's heart and determine where the infection is and how extensive it is.
Endocarditis is a very serious condition. It can can cause severe damage to the lining and valves of the heart. Because most cases of pediatric endocarditis are bacterial infections, your child may be given strong antibiotics through an IV over several weeks. If heart damage has already occurred or if the endocarditis is caused by a viral or fungal infection, or has a noninfectious cause, other treatment protocols may be needed. Choosing the right treatment for your child is critical and depends on many things:
All of these criteria will determine which options are best suited to your child's care. As part of the team, and as the parent, you will be a part of the decision making process, choosing a treatment plan that works best for your child and your family.
One of the first steps to preventing endocarditis is teaching your child the importance of good dental hygiene. This is especially true if your child has a high risk for this type of infection. Your child should practice regular brushing (every morning, after meals and before bed) and daily flossing. Regular visits to the dentist for cleanings and tooth care are critical.
Your pediatric cardiologist may have your child take an antibiotic before any kind of procedure, including dental, surgical and some types of testing. This is usually a single dose taken once just prior to the procedure. Not all children will be treated with an antibiotic. Based on the guidelines set by the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the Pediatric Infections Disease Society and the American Dental Association, only those children with cardiac complications at the highest risk for complications from endocarditis should be prescribed pretreatment antibiotics. This includes:
Your pediatric cardiologist will discuss preventive care with you and answer any questions and concerns you may have.
Rare and complex congenital heart defects don’t always present a clear cut method of treatment. Often, there are multiple ways of approaching the diagnosis. Our physicians also are available to provide second opinions for families seeking alternative treatment options. If you would like to schedule an appointment, refer a patient or speak to our staff, please call our offices at 682-885-2140.