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Endocarditis - Topic Overview

The symptoms of endocarditis progress as the bacteria or fungi grow in your heart. Vague, flu-like symptoms, such as a low-grade fever and fatigue, often occur first. Most people with endocarditis begin to have symptoms within 2 weeks after becoming infected with bacteria or fungi.

But a powerful strain of bacteria may cause symptoms to appear much faster, within a few days.

Symptoms include:

  • Chills and fever.
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight loss.
  • Night sweats.
  • Painful joints.
  • Persistent cough and shortness of breath.
  • Bleeding under the fingernails.
  • Tiny purple and red spots under the skin.

Although symptoms are vague and may not seem worth telling your doctor about, if they don't go away or if you know you are at risk for endocarditis, contact your doctor.

If endocarditis is not treated, the bacteria that cause endocarditis can form growths on or around the heart valves. The growths prevent the heart valves from opening and closing properly. This interrupts the normal blood flow through the valves and interferes with the heart's pumping action. Blood can leak backwards instead of being pumped forward. Over time, heart failure can develop, because your heart may not be able to pump enough blood to meet your body's needs.

Endocarditis can also cause other problems, including:

First your doctor will ask about your medical history and do a physical exam. If your doctor thinks that you may have endocarditis, he or she will check for signs of the infection, such as a heart murmur, an enlarged spleen, skin rashes, and bleeding under your nails.

Blood cultures will be done to check for bacteria in your bloodstream. And other tests, such as an echocardiogram, may be done to check your heart function and look at your heart valves.

It is important to treat endocarditis as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage to the heart muscle or heart valves.

Antibiotics given through a vein (intravenously, or by IV) are the usual treatment for endocarditis. If your heart valves are damaged by the infection or if you have an artificial heart valve, surgery to repair or replace the valve may be needed. You may also need surgery if your endocarditis is caused by a fungus. If it is not treated, endocarditis can be fatal.

Learning about endocarditis:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with endocarditis:

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 27, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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