Endocarditis

Endocarditis

Topic Overview

Illustration of the heart

What is endocarditis?

Endocarditis is an infection of the heart's valves or its inner lining (endocardium). It is most common in people who have a damaged, diseased, or artificial heart valve.

See a picture of endocarditis.

What causes endocarditis?

Endocarditis is caused by bacteria (or in rare cases, by fungi) that enter the bloodstream and settle on the inside of the heart, usually on the heart valves. Bacteria can invade your bloodstream in many ways, including during some dental and surgical procedures. If you don't take care of your teeth, having your teeth cleaned or even brushing your teeth can cause bacteria to enter the bloodstream.

What increases the risk for endocarditis?

If you have a normal heart, you have a low risk for endocarditis. But if you have a problem with your heart that affects normal blood flow through the heart, it is more likely that bacteria or fungi will attach to heart tissue. This puts you at a higher risk for endocarditis.

You have a higher risk of endocarditis if you have:

Not all heart problems give you a higher risk of endocarditis. You do not have a higher risk if you have:

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

If you have certain heart conditions, getting endocarditis is even more dangerous for you. These heart conditions include:

If you have any of these heart conditions, you may need to take antibiotics before you have certain dental and surgical procedures. The antibiotics lower your risk of getting endocarditis. If you do not have these conditions, antibiotics are not likely to help you.

Procedures that may require antibiotics include:

  • Certain dental work or dental surgery.
  • Lung surgery.
  • Surgery on infected skin, bone, or muscle tissue.
  • Certain medical procedures, such as a biopsy.

Practicing good oral hygiene is especially important to prevent endocarditis if you are at risk.

Your doctor can give you a card to carry in your wallet. The card states that you may need preventive antibiotics before certain procedures.

What are the symptoms?

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:

How is endocarditis diagnosed?

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.

How is it treated?

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about endocarditis:

Being diagnosed:

Getting treatment:

Ongoing concerns:

Living with endocarditis:

Symptoms

Most people with endocarditis have symptoms that begin within 2 weeks after becoming infected. Vague, flu-like symptoms, such as a low-grade fever and fatigue, often occur first. But infection with a powerful strain of bacteria may cause symptoms to be more severe (such as a high fever) and to appear much faster, within a few days. If symptoms persist, see your doctor, especially if you are at a high risk for endocarditis.

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.

If you have certain heart conditions, getting endocarditis is even more dangerous for you. These heart conditions include:

Other risk factors (things that raise your risk) for endocarditis include:

  • Having hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
  • Having hemodialysis, which is a treatment to clean the blood for people who have kidney failure.
  • Injecting street drugs using dirty needles or without cleaning the skin.
  • Having HIV, which can reduce your ability to fight infection.

Your doctor can tell you whether you are at increased risk for endocarditis. Before you have any medical, dental, or surgical procedures, tell all other health professionals who may treat you that you are at risk for endocarditis. Your doctor can give you a card to carry in your wallet stating that you may need preventive antibiotics before having certain procedures.

Complications

You will likely have symptoms if you have a complication of endocarditis. Complications may include:

Exams and Tests

The first step in diagnosing endocarditis is a review of your medical history and a physical exam.

As part of your medical history, your doctor will ask you:

  • About your symptoms.
  • If you have a heart murmur or have had valve replacement surgery.
  • If you have any recent risk factors (things that put you at risk) for a bacterial or fungal infection, such as drug injection, dental procedures, or a catheter (such as a catheter for hemodialysis).

As part of your physical exam, your doctor will check your body for signs of an infection. This includes:

  • Looking in your eyes for small amounts of bleeding.
  • Looking at your skin for tiny purple or red spots, tender bumps, or painless red spots.
  • Listening to your heart for a murmur.
  • Listening to your lungs for any fluid buildup.
  • Giving you a neurologic exam to check for signs of a stroke.

Other tests may be needed to diagnose endocarditis. They include:

  • Blood cultures. Several blood cultures are recommended to identify bacteria or fungi in the bloodstream. But sometimes blood cultures fail to detect endocarditis. The cultures may fail because you recently took antibiotics or the bacteria or fungi causing your endocarditis do not grow well in a lab culture. If the blood cultures do not detect endocarditis, you may need further testing.
  • Echocardiogram, including transthoracic echocardiogram (TTE) and transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE). These tests use high-pitched sound waves to produce an image of the heart. They can find infected areas, heart valve defects, and other abnormalities.

You may need other tests to identify complications of endocarditis. These tests may include:

Treatment Overview

There are three main goals when treating endocarditis:

  • Quickly destroy the infection.
  • Repair or replace a heart valve, if needed.
  • Treat complications.

Destroy the infection

If you have endocarditis, you will need several weeks of treatment with one or more antibiotics. At first you will be treated in the hospital, because the antibiotics are given through a vein (by IV) and you may need other tests during treatment. After your fever is gone and you are stable, you may be able to continue IV antibiotics at home with the help of a home health nurse.

Antibiotics are usually given for 4 to 8 weeks, but some people may require only 2 to 4 weeks of treatment. How long you take antibiotics may depend on what type of bacteria is causing the infection or whether you have an infection of artificial heart valves. For example, you may take antibiotics for a longer time because you have artificial heart valves. The antibiotics must be given long enough and at a strong enough dose to destroy all of the bacteria.

After the first 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 return, call your doctor right away. You probably will need more antibiotics if testing shows that the bacteria were not completely destroyed.

If endocarditis is caused by a fungus, you may need intravenous antifungal medicine. And heart valve surgery usually is required for endocarditis caused by a fungus.

Surgery

If your heart valve becomes severely damaged from endocarditis or if infection develops in an artificial heart valve, you may need surgery to repair or replace the valve.

You may need surgery if you have:

  • Heart failure.
  • A fungal infection.
  • An abscess in your heart.
  • Damage to the electrical system of your heart.
  • Infected tissue that repeatedly breaks off the valve and travels to other parts of your body (for example, lungs, brain, or kidneys).

Your medical team

Treatment for endocarditis is usually guided by an infectious disease specialist. A cardiologist may also be involved if your heart muscle or valves are damaged. You will need a cardiovascular surgeon if you have heart valve replacement surgery.

Home Treatment

After your condition has stabilized, you can probably go home where you may continue to receive antibiotic treatment. You may have a central venous catheter, such as a PICC line, that gives you antibiotics into a vein. A home health nurse will help with these medicines. The nurse will teach you how to give yourself the antibiotics and how to care for your catheter.

Be sure to tell your doctor if symptoms, such as a fever or chills, return or if you have any new symptoms.

Preventing endocarditis

If you have a normal heart and valve structure, you have a low risk for endocarditis. But if you have a problem with your heart that affects normal blood flow, it increases the likelihood that bacteria or fungi will attach to heart tissue. This puts you at a higher risk for endocarditis.

If you have certain heart conditions, getting endocarditis is even more dangerous for you. These heart conditions include:

If you have any of these heart conditions, you may need to take antibiotics before you have certain dental or surgical procedures that could put bacteria or fungi into your blood. The antibiotics lower your risk of getting endocarditis.

Your doctor can give you a card to carry in your wallet. It states that you may need preventive antibiotics before certain procedures.

If you are at increased risk for endocarditis, practice good oral hygiene. Floss your teeth daily, and visit a dentist twice each year. For more information, see the topic Gum Disease.

Also, if you have conditions such as an HIV infection that weaken your ability to fight disease, you are at greater risk.

Other Places To Get Help

Organizations

American Heart Association (AHA)
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX  75231
Phone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)
Web Address: www.heart.org
 

Visit the American Heart Association (AHA) website for information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions. You can search for information on heart disease and stroke, share information with friends and family, and use tools to help you make heart-healthy goals and plans. Contact the AHA to find your nearest local or state AHA group. The AHA provides brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support.


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD  20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573
Fax: (240) 629-3246
TDD: (240) 629-3255
Email: nhlbiinfo@nhlbi.nih.gov
Web Address: www.nhlbi.nih.gov
 

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:

  • Diseases affecting the heart and circulation, such as heart attacks, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, and heart problems present at birth (congenital heart diseases).
  • Diseases that affect the lungs, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, sleep apnea, and pneumonia.
  • Diseases that affect the blood, such as anemia, hemochromatosis, hemophilia, thalassemia, and von Willebrand disease.

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Baddour LM, et al. (2005). Infective endocarditis: Diagnosis, antimicrobial therapy, and management of complications: A statement for healthcare professionals from the Committee on Rheumatic Fever, Endocarditis, and Kawasaki Disease, Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young, and the Councils on Clinical Cardiology, Stroke, and Cardiovascular Surgery and Anesthesia, American Heart A
  • Bonow RO, et al. (2008). 2008 Focused update incorporated into the ACC/AHA 2006 Guidelines for the management of patients with valvular heart disease: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines (Writing committee to revise the 1998 Guidelines for the management of patients with valvular heart disease). Circulation, 118(15):
  • Endocarditis prophylaxis for dental procedures (2012). The Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 54(1339): 74. [Erratum in Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 54(1401): 84].
  • Haldar SM, O'Gara PT (2011). Infective endocarditis. In V Fuster et al., eds., Hurst's the Heart, 13th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1940–1969. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Karchmer AW, Bonow RO (2012). Infective endocarditis. In RO Bonow et al., eds., Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1540–1558. Philadelphia: Saunders.
  • Li JS, et al. (2007). Infective endocarditis. In EJ Topol et al., eds., Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 8th ed., pp. 402–419. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Wilson W, et al. (2007). Prevention of endocarditis. Guidelines from the American Heart Association. A guideline from the American Heart Association Rheumatic Fever, Endocarditis, and Kawasaki Disease Committee, Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young, and the Council on Clinical Cardiology, Council on Cardiovascular Surgery and Anesthesia, and the Quality of Care and Outcomes Res

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerW. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease
Last RevisedMarch 9, 2011



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