Septic Embolism

blood test in lab
Rafe Swan/Cultura/Getty Images

Definition: A septic embolism is a piece of tissue that has been infected with bacteria in one part of the body that migrates to another part of the body blocking blood vessels. A septic embolism typically originates in the heart valves, commonly as a result of infective endocarditis, and can cause a stroke. Strokes resulting from a septic embolism are classified as septic strokes.

Causes of a Septic Embolus

  • Infected intravenous access site
  • Tricuspid valve endocarditis
  • Soft-tissue infection in the body
  • Certain dental procedures
  • Infected deep vein thrombosis
  • Immunologic deficiencies
  • Periodontal disease
  • Intravenous drug use

Infective endocarditis progressively causes the extensive destruction of heart valves, resulting in life-threatening complications such as congestive heart failure and recurrent septic embolism.

Symptoms of Septic Embolism

  • Inflammation
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Numbness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent cough
  • Tenderness in the spleen
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Sharp chest or back pain

Diagnosis of a Septic Embolism

A septic embolism can be difficult to diagnose. Most patients have a positive blood culture by the time imaging tests are conducted. But the results do not indicate the location of the emboli or the cause of the infection.

Diagnostic tests include:

  • Complete blood count
  • Angiogram
  • MRI
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Chest X-ray

Treatment for Septic Embolism

Treatment includes antibiotics and in some cases, surgery to repair a heart valve damaged by infection.

Prevention of Septic Embolism

Not all cases of septic embolism can be prevented in other cases they can. Some of the preventative measures that can be taken are:

  • Good dental health
  • Avoiding skin infections
  • Avoiding body piercings
  • Avoiding tattoos
  • Prompt medical attention for skin infections
  • Preventive antibiotics before medical or dental procedures

Continue Reading