Cleveland Clinic Study: Heart Infections Linked To Drug Abuse Have Doubled

Dr. Jose Navia works to replace the damaged heart valve of an IV drug user at the Cleveland Clinic in 2018.
Dr. Jose Navia works to replace the damaged heart valve of an IV drug user at the Cleveland Clinic. [ideastream]

Deadly heart infections linked to drug use rose nationally from 8 percent to 16 percent from 2002 to 2016, according to a new study from the Cleveland Clinic.

The majority of patients with the abuse-related illness were younger, low-income white males on Medicaid. Regionally across the United States, the Midwest saw the largest increases in these cases.

Cleveland Clinic doctors sounded the alarm last year on the rise in heart infections, known as infective endocarditis, linked specifically to opioid use. They noted that 18 percent of their patients with this condition were also addicted to opioid, up from 10 percent in 2014.

Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Dr. Steven Nissen said back in 2018 that the “ongoing cost and human suffering related to these infected heart valves is a legacy that will continue even if we stop the epidemic tomorrow. This is a ripple effect that keeps on growing.”  

Infective endocarditis is a condition where bacteria, often staphylococcus, gets into the bloodstream via a dirty needle or contaminated drug. The bacteria then eats away at the valve, potentially causing leaky valves, heart failure, abscesses and stroke. Untreated, it can be fatal.

The study, which reviewed about 1 million national hospitalization records, was published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association

Care for patients with heart infections should also include addiction treatment, says Dr. Serge Harb, the study's senior author.

“Treatment of these patients should not be only limited to treating these infections, but it should be more like an multi-disciplinary approach involving cardiac surgeons but also social workers, nurses, and addiction specialists, so we can not only treat the infection but also prevent relapses,” said Harb.

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