Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart or the heart valves. The infection occurs when bacteria or other infectious germs spread through your bloodstream and attach to part of your heart. It can damage and potentially destroy your heart valves.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of a heart valve infection really depend on what's causing the infection. The most common symptoms include:
- excessive sweating
- new cardiac murmur
Less common symptoms may include:
- joint pain
- night sweats
- nail abnormalities
- red, painless skin spots on the palms and soles
- red, painful nodes in the pads of the fingers and toes
- red or purple spots on the skin, on the retina of the eye, or on the inside your mouth
Because a lot of these symptoms could be caused by other conditions, your doctor will need to perform a number of tests to make a diagnosis of heart valve infection, including (among others):
- blood tests to identify bacteria in the blood stream
- transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) to look for infected heart tissue
- electrocardiogram to check for irregular heartbeat
- chest x-ray to see the state of your heart and lungs
Causes and Risk Factors
Endocarditis rarely occurs in people with normal, healthy hearts. For most people, the immune system will destroy any bacteria that enter the bloodstream. You are usually only at risk if you have one or more of the following:
- an artificial heart valve
- heart valves damaged by previous conditions like rheumatic fever
- congenital heart defects
- hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
- a history of endocarditis
- a history of intravenous drug use
Endocarditis needs to be treated with a high dose antibiotics for several weeks. People with the condition may need to be hospitalized in order to receive immediate high doses of intravenous antibiotics. After hospitalization, patients will usually need to be on a four- to six-week regimen of antibiotics to make sure the infection is entirely cleared up.
If the infection has seriously damaged your heart valves, you may need to have surgery in order to prevent or treat persistent symptoms. The surgery could involve repairing or replacing your damaged valve(s).
Medically Reviewed by: Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.