From the Journals

AHA guidance on infective endocarditis with injection drug use



Prompted by the “unprecedented” increase in the occurrence of infective endocarditis (IE) cases among people who inject drugs, the American Heart Association has issued a scientific statement devoted solely to this challenging patient population.

The statement provides a more in-depth focus on the management of IE among this unique population than what has been provided in prior AHA IE-related documents.

The statement stresses that managing IE in people who inject drugs is complex and requires a unique multidisciplinary approach that includes consultation with an addiction specialist.

The statement was published online in Circulation.

Poor long-term prognosis

In the United States from 2002 to 2016, the proportion of patients hospitalized with IE related to injection drug use doubled from 8% to about 16%.

The long-term prognosis for this population is “currently dismal for this relatively young group of individuals,” writing group Chair Daniel C. DeSimone, MD, with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., notes in a news release.

To improve prognosis, the writing group advises a multidisciplinary team care approach that includes cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, and infectious diseases specialists as well as addiction medicine or addiction psychiatry specialists, pharmacists, social workers, and nurse specialists.

Nurse specialists can coordinate care from the initial IE hospitalization to outpatient and community care to support substance use disorder.

“Clinical teams must recognize that substance use disorder is a treatable chronic, relapsing medical illness and many people are able to enter sustained remission, particularly when they receive effective treatments,” the writing group emphasizes.

Although not all patients with injection drug–related IE have opioid addiction, for those who do, the “best practice” is to offer buprenorphine or methadone “as soon as possible” after the patient presents to the hospital, they advise.

Antimicrobial therapy

The writing group says it’s “reasonable” to offer people with injection drug–related IE standard treatment for IE, which is 6 weeks of intravenous antibiotics. They recognize, however, that this regimen is often not feasible in this patient population and say there is growing evidence that partial intravenous therapy followed by oral antibiotic treatment to complete a total of 6 weeks is a possible option.

They also highlight the “critical” importance of preventive measures in people who inject drugs who are successfully treated for an initial bout of IE because they remain at “extremely” high risk for subsequent bouts of IE, regardless of whether injection drug use is continued.

The writing group also stresses that people with IE who inject drugs should be considered for heart valve repair or replacement surgery regardless of current drug use if they have indications for valve surgery.

“There’s no evidence that indications for valve surgery are different for people who inject drugs compared to those who don’t, however, some treatment centers don’t offer surgery, especially if the patient currently injects drugs or has had a previous valve surgery,” Dr. DeSimone says in the release.

“Those who develop infective endocarditis require complex care delivered by professionals who look beyond stigma and bias to provide optimal and equitable care,” Dr. DeSimone adds.

The writing group acknowledges that while addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry expertise are critical to managing IE in injection drug users, these specific resources are currently not widely available.

They call on health care systems to attract individuals with addiction training and support addiction medicine consultative services, particularly in centers where drug use–related IE is common and expected to continue to increase.

This AHA scientific statement was prepared by the volunteer writing group on behalf of the AHA Rheumatic Fever, Endocarditis and Kawasaki Disease Committee of the Council on Lifelong Congenital Heart Disease and Heart Health in the Young; the Council on Cardiovascular Surgery and Anesthesia; the Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; the Council on Clinical Cardiology; and the Council on Peripheral Vascular Disease.

This research had no commercial funding. Dr. DeSimone has no relevant disclosures.

A version of this article first appeared on

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