Endocarditis is the infection of the inner lining of your heart chambers and its valves, collectively called the endocardium. Often a rare occurrence, endocarditis develops when germs, bacteria, or fungi spread from another part of your body and enters your heart via the bloodstream. What happens in endocarditis is infection-causing bacteria then latches onto the damaged areas of your heart.
Depending on the germs that cause infection, what happens in endocarditis are symptoms that may develop slowly or quickly. Another factor that may determine how fast the condition develops is whether the person has any underlying heart problems.
What happens in Endocarditis? Watch out for these symptoms
The symptoms that happen in endocarditis vary from person to person, and may often start as mild symptoms, which slowly progress into more serious ones. The mild symptoms can often be mistaken for symptoms of other diseases.
Here are the most common symptoms:
- Fever and chills, often mistaken to be the flu
- A heart murmur
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Aching joints and muscles
- Night sweats
- Difficulty breathing with chest pain
- Swelling of the abdomen, legs or feet
Endocarditis may also cause symptoms that are out of the ordinary like:
- Unexpected weight loss, with no definite cause
- Blood in urine. This may only be visible under a microscope
- Tender, red spots on the toes and fingers
- Tenderness just below your rib cage when your spleen is located. The spleen is an organ that helps in fighting off infection.
- Red spots on your feet and palms, also known as Janeway lesions
- Red or purple spots on the skin, inside your mouth, or the whites of your eyes, also known as Petechiae
Endocarditis may exhibit itself differently in different people, so other symptoms may not be listed above. If you have any concerns about symptoms, or if you have a suspicion that you have endocarditis, consult your doctor.
What are the causes of endocarditis?
Endocarditis is often caused by germs or bacteria that enter the bloodstream via the mouth or open wounds. These then enter the heart where they attach themselves to damaged tissue. While bacteria is the most common cause, fungi and microorganisms can also cause endocarditis.
Bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms can enter your bloodstream through:
- Mouth and gums. Brushing your teeth aggressively and some dental procedures can cut your gums and cause them to bleed.
- Skin sores and open wounds
- Medical conditions such as gum disease, STIs, and inflammatory bowel disease
- Catheters, especially when used for a long time, can harbor bacteria
- Tattoos and body piercing
- Contaminated needles and syringes
What are the risk factors of endocarditis?
What happens in endocarditis is bacteria attaches itself to damaged tissue in the heart. It more easily attaches to the lining if the surface of the heart valve is rough or broken. While it affects those primarily with damaged heart valves, endocarditis can also occur in healthy people.
Those at higher risk of developing endocarditis are those with:
- Damaged heart valves
- Congenital heart defects
- Artificial heart valves
- History of endocarditis
- History of illegal drug use, especially those who use contaminated needles
Is endocarditis treatable?
Though it attacks one of the most vital organs in the body, in many cases, endocarditis can be treated with simple antibiotics. In serious cases, a physician may prescribe surgery.
For more serious conditions, the doctor may either advise surgery to clean up the area where the bacteria has spread (ensuring that it doesn’t recur) or replace a damaged valve.
For artificial valve replacement, it can either be mechanical or formed from cow, pig or human tissue.
How is endocarditis diagnosed?
What typically happens in endocarditis diagnosis is a doctor performs a physical exam along with a review of a patient’s medical history. Several blood tests can help confirm the diagnosis.
Blood culture tests will help in identifying the bacteria that is causing the infection. Depending on the organism, the doctor will prescribe the best antibiotic treatment for you.
In addition to a blood culture test, your doctor may request the following:
- Echocardiogram. A test that uses sound waves to produce an image of your heart, which can help check for signs of infection.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG). This scan can detect irregularities in your heart’s electrical activity, confirming possible damage to the heart valve.
- Chest x-ray. This is used to check if the infection has spread to your lungs, and whether your heart has become enlarged due to infection.
- CT (computerized tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). For more serious infections, an MRI or CT scan may be required to check whether it has spread to other vital parts of the body like your brain.
Typically, the ill patient will spend a few days to a week in the hospital to receive IV antibiotics. He will be placed under medical supervision to ensure that he responds positively to the treatment. Antibiotic therapy can later be continued at home for another couple of weeks.
How can you lower your risk of endocarditis?
As endocarditis is caused by bacteria, fungi, or microorganisms, you can follow a few preventive measures to minimize your risk of developing an infection that can cause endocarditis:
- Maintain good dental health by regularly going to your dentist, and brushing and flossing regularly.
- Avoid getting tattoos and body piercings, which can lead to skin infections.
- Immediately clean wounds and take care of open sores.
If you notice symptoms that may point to endocarditis, consult your doctor immediately.
Learn more about heart health, here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.