Cardiac Conditions & Diseases

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Endocarditis

Endocarditis (EN-do-kar-DI-tis) is an infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves. This lining is called the endocardium (en-do-KAR-de-um). The condition also is called infective endocarditis (IE).

The term "endocarditis" also is used to describe an inflammation of the endocardium due to other conditions. This article only discusses endocarditis related to infection.

IE occurs if bacteria, fungi, or other germs invade your bloodstream and attach to abnormal areas of your heart. The infection can damage your heart and cause serious and sometimes fatal complications.

IE can develop quickly or slowly; it depends on what type of germ is causing it and whether you have an underlying heart problem. When IE develops quickly, it's called acute infective endocarditis. When it develops slowly, it's called subacute infective endocarditis.

Causes

Infective endocarditis (IE) occurs if bacteria, fungi, or other germs invade your bloodstream and attach to abnormal areas of your heart. Certain factors increase the risk of this happening.

A common underlying factor in IE is a structural heart defect, especially faulty heart valves. Usually your immune system will kill germs in your bloodstream. However, if your heart has a rough lining or abnormal valves, the invading germs can attach and multiply in the heart.

Other factors also can play a role in causing IE. Common activities, such as brushing your teeth or having certain dental procedures, can allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream. This is even more likely to happen if your teeth and gums are in poor condition.

Having a catheter (tube) or another medical device inserted through your skin, especially for long periods, also can allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream. People who use intravenous (IV) drugs also are at risk for IE because of the germs on needles and syringes.

Bacteria also may spread to the blood and heart from infections in other parts of the body, such as the gut, skin, or genitals.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Endocarditis?

Infective endocarditis (IE) can cause a range of signs and symptoms that can vary from person to person. Signs and symptoms also can vary over time in the same person.

Signs and symptoms differ depending on whether you have an underlying heart problem, the type of germ causing the infection, and whether you have acute or subacute IE.

Signs and symptoms of IE may include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, fatigue (tiredness), aching muscles and joints, night sweats, and headaches.
  • Shortness of breath or a cough that won't go away.
  • A new heart murmur or a change in an existing heart murmur.
  • Skin changes such as:
    • Overall paleness.
    • Small, painful, red or purplish bumps under the skin on the fingers or toes.
    • Small, dark, painless flat spots on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.
    • Tiny spots under the fingernails, on the whites of the eyes, on the roof of the mouth and inside of the cheeks, or on the chest. These spots are from broken blood vessels.
  • Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting, a decrease in appetite, a sense of fullness with discomfort on the upper left side of the abdomen, or weight loss with or without a change in appetite.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Swelling in the feet, legs, or abdomen.

Information provided by National Heart Lung and Blood Institute