What is endocarditis?

By Brooke Strickland

Endocarditis is when the inner lining of the heart becomes infected.   This type of infection usually happens when germs from another part of your body spread and attach to damaged areas of the heart.  The infection can develop slowly or can come on suddenly and is uncommon in people that have healthy hearts.  It is more commonly seen in people that have heart defects or artificial hearts.  If the infection is not treated, severe damage or in some more serious cases, destruction of the heart valves can occur.  Sometimes, strokes or organ damage can happen.  In addition, if not treated, endocarditis can cause pockets of pus to develop in other parts of the body, spreading to other parts of the body including the brain, kidneys, or other life-giving organs.  This can be a life-threatening condition. 

Endocarditis can impact people differently, but in general there are some signs and symptoms to watch out for.

-Fever & chills
-Night sweats
-Aching joints & muscles
-Persistent cough
-New or changed heart murmur
-Shortness of breath
-Spleen tenderness
-Unexplained weight loss
-Blood in the urine
-Feet or leg swelling

Endocarditis is usually treated with antibiotics and in more serious cases, surgery may be needed. If you develop any of the above symptoms - especially if you have a pre-exising heart complication or defect or a history of endocarditis, contact your doctor as soon as possible. It's important to do early testing, such as blood tests, CT scans, x-ray, or echocardiogram) to diagnose and treat it.