Intravenous (IV) drug use carries a great amount of risk of overdose and severe health consequences. One major health problem linked with IV drug use is bacterial infection. Bacteria can enter into the body via a dirty needle and cause severe infections that require immediate medical attention. In some cases, bacteria can spread through the bloodstream and cause severe damage to the heart known as endocarditis. Endocarditis is a serious and life-threatening complication. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Signs and symptoms also can vary over time in the same person. Signs and symptoms differ depending on whether you have an underlying heart problem, the type of germ causing the infection, and whether you have acute or subacute IE.” Common symptoms of endocarditis include flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, headaches, and fatigue; cough and shortness of breath; heart murmur; nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort; blood in the urine; and swelling in the legs, feet, or abdomen. Endocarditis as a result of IV drug use is primarily caused by Staphylococcus aureus, or “staph infection”, and generally affects the right side of the heart. According to Dr. Yan Ji, in a Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspective article entitled Acute Endocarditis in Intravenous Drug Users: A Case Report and Literature Review, “The incidence of IE [infective endocarditis] among IDU [intravenous drug users] in the United States ranges between 1–5% every year. In IDU patients, IE accounts for 5–20% of hospitalizations and 5–10% of total deaths.” Infective endocarditis required immediate treatment with antibiotics or it could progress into a lethal infection. In some cases, surgery is required. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Contaminated needles and syringes are a special concern for people who use illegal intravenous (IV) drugs, such as heroin or cocaine. Often, individuals who use these types of drugs don’t have access to clean, unused needles or syringes.” Intravenous cocaine users are at a higher risk for infection because they tend to inject more often. Severe complications from endocarditis include stroke; seizure; paralysis; abscesses in the heart, brain, lungs, or other organs; pulmonary embolism; kidney damage; and enlarged spleen. It is imperative that a person who may be experiencing symptoms of endocarditis seek medical attention right away to mitigate the risks of severe of lethal health complications.
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