Endocarditis poses a greater risk to people with a congenital heart defect than those with a healthy heart.

Endocarditis is an infection caused by bacteria that enter the bloodstream and settle in the lining of the heart, a heart valve or a blood vessel. If you do not seek treatment, this infection can further damage heart valves and even cause death.

Endocarditis does not commonly occur in people who have healthy hearts. People at greater risk are those who have a congenital heart defect or a damaged or artificial valve.

Causes

Infection-causing bacteria can enter the bloodstream through:

  • The mouth
  • Contaminated needles
  • A catheter
  • An infected area on the skin or gums
  • A sexually transmitted disease
  • A cut

People who have existing damage in a heart valve or have a valve that has been surgically treated (replaced in the past) are susceptible to this bacterial infection.

If you have had endocarditis before, you are at a greater risk for a future infection.

Symptoms

Symptoms can mimic those of the flu or a viral illness – a low fever, night sweats, loss of appetite, body aches and fatigue. Additional symptoms include high fever, chills, vomiting and a rash.

Diagnosis

If you have a heart defect that puts you at risk for endocarditis, always mention this to any physician who treats you. Tests physicians may use to diagnose endocarditis include:

Blood tests – Studies to detect bacteria in the bloodstream

Chest X-ray – A radiograph or picture of the heart and lungs including blood vessels, ribs and bones of the spine

CT scan (computed tomography scan) – An imaging procedure that uses X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional, detailed images of the body, including bones, muscles, fat and organs

Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) – A test to provide an image of heart structures; a small transducer (like a microphone) is passed down the esophagus to produce the image

Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG) – A test that records the electrical activity of the heart

Treatments

Antibiotics, administered intravenously, are used to treat endocarditis. Surgery to repair or replace a valve further damaged by endocartitis also may be necessary. 

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