Endocarditis - Topic Overview


What is endocarditis?

Endocarditis is an infection of the heart's valves or inner lining. It occurs when germs get into the bloodstream and settle inside the heart, often on a valve . The infection is usually caused by bacteria. In rare cases, it is caused by fungi.

This infection can damage your heart. It needs to be treated right away. If it isn't treated, endocarditis can be deadly.

What increases your risk of endocarditis?

Your risk is higher if you have a problem that affects blood flow through your heart . That's because a blood flow problem makes it more likely that bacteria or fungi will attach to heart tissue. Some other things raise your risk too, because they can let bacteria or fungi enter your bloodstream.

You have a higher risk of endocarditis if you have:

Not all heart problems put you at higher risk for endocarditis. You do not have a higher risk if you have had:

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may appear quickly, within a few days of infection. In other cases, they may develop more slowly. The symptoms will get worse as the bacteria or fungi grow in your heart.

Symptoms may include:

See your doctor if you have symptoms like these that don't go away, especially if you are at risk for endocarditis.

If endocarditis isn't treated soon, it can lead to more serious problems, such as:


How is endocarditis diagnosed?

First, your doctor will ask about your medical history and your symptoms. The doctor will also do a physical exam to check for signs of the infection. These signs include a heart murmur, an enlarged spleen, and bleeding under the nails.

Your doctor may also do tests, such as:

How is it treated?

Endocarditis is usually treated with antibiotics. You will probably need several weeks of treatment. The antibiotics must be given long enough and at a strong enough dose to destroy all of the bacteria.

At first you will be treated in the hospital. This is so that antibiotics can be given through a vein (IV). After your fever is gone and you are stable, you may be able to continue IV antibiotics at home. A home health nurse can help you with this.

After you have been treated with IV antibiotics, your doctor may want you to take antibiotic pills. If so, take them exactly as prescribed until they are gone. If your symptoms come back, call your doctor right away. You probably will need more antibiotics if testing shows that the bacteria were not completely destroyed.

Some people who have endocarditis need surgery to repair or replace a heart valve or to prevent complications.

What can you do if you are at risk for endocarditis?

Endocarditis is most dangerous for people who have:

If you have any of these heart problems, you may need to take antibiotics before you have some kinds of dental work, surgery, or medical procedures. The antibiotics lower your risk of getting endocarditis. Your doctor can give you a wallet card to carry that says you need preventive antibiotics.

It's also very important to take good care of your teeth and gums every day. Good oral care can limit the growth of mouth bacteria that could get into your bloodstream.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
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