Heart Infection (Endocarditis)

What is endocarditis?

Endocarditis is an infection of the thin layer of tissue lining the inside of the heart. The infection can also damage your heart valves. If a heart valve is badly damaged, your heart has to work harder and may get bigger. You may not be able to exercise as much as you used to. The infection could travel from the heart to other parts of the body, causing other problems, such as stroke or damage to the kidneys.

What is the cause?

The infection may be caused by bacteria, yeast, or fungi. Endocarditis is most often caused by an infection that starts in another part of the body and spreads through the bloodstream to the heart. This may happen if you have:

  • An infected wound
  • A mouth infection
  • Surgery or other procedures, bladder catheter, or an IV that gets infected

You are more at risk for endocarditis if you have:

  • Heart valve damage from rheumatic fever, or other heart valve problems
  • Some types of birth defects in the heart
  • An artificial heart valve

Your risk is also higher if you have had endocarditis before or if you share needles to inject drugs.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Sweats
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling tired
  • Weight loss
  • Joint and muscle pain

At first the infection may be mistaken for the flu, but the symptoms usually get worse with time.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Tests may include

  • Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves (ultrasound) to look at your heart and check how well the valves are working The echocardiogram may be done using a small tube passed down your throat to give the clearest picture of the heart and valves.
  • Blood tests

How is it treated?

You may need to stay at the hospital for a while. You will take antibiotics for several weeks.

You may need surgery if the antibiotics cannot get rid of the infection or if one of your heart valves is badly damaged. If you have an artificial heart valve and get endocarditis, the infected valve is usually replaced with a new one.

How can I help prevent endocarditis?

Damaged, abnormal, or artificial valves are more likely to get infected by bacteria. Antibiotics can prevent this. Ask your healthcare provider if you should take an antibiotic before any kind of dental work or surgery. This includes having your teeth cleaned or procedures involving the bladder, vagina, or rectum.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-05-06
Last reviewed: 2014-10-13
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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