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Infective Endocarditis

Endocarditis is a bacterial infection in the bloodstream.

When left untreated, infective endocarditis can be life-threatening, damaging your heart or destroying your heart valves.

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What Is Endocarditis?

Endocarditis is an infection caused by bacteria in the bloodstream. The bacteria settle in your heart's inner lining or a heart valve, causing an infection.

The bacteria can enter your body:

  • Through injection drug use.
  • Through central venous access lines.
  • During dental or surgical procedures.

Fungi, or other germs from your body that spread to your heart through your bloodstream, can also cause it.

Infective endocarditis risk factors

People are at higher risk of infective endocarditis if they have certain heart problems, including:

People at higher risk of getting endocarditis may receive antibiotics before some dental procedures.

Endocarditis complications

When left untreated, infective endocarditis can damage or even destroy your heart valves. This can be life-threatening.

Stroke is also possible if parts of the infection break off and cause blood clots.

Why choose UPMC for infective endocarditis care?

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute brings together specialists to diagnose and treat infective endocarditis.

Infective Endocarditis Symptoms and Diagnosis

Endocarditis symptoms

Endocarditis has symptoms like other infections, including

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating

Infective endocarditis symptoms may progress slowly or come on suddenly. Sometimes symptoms come and go.

Other signs and symptoms of infective endocarditis include:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Aches
  • A new or changed heart murmur
  • Areas of bleeding under the nails
  • Red skin spots on your palms and the soles of your feet that aren't painful
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of your feet, legs, or stomach

Diagnosing infective endocarditis

You should see a doctor right away if you have any symptoms of endocarditis.

Your doctor will review your signs and symptoms and might order tests to confirm a diagnosis of infective endocarditis.

Tests you might have include:

  • Blood tests to look for the type of bacteria present or signs of the infection.
  • An echocardiogram to see your heart's structure and look for damage, or to check the heart valves for damage or infection.
  • A chest x-ray to see if the infection has enlarged your heart or spread to your lungs.

Infective Endocarditis Treatment

Treatment for infective endocarditis begins with an IV of antibiotics in the hospital.

After leaving the hospital, most people need long-term antibiotics — about four to six weeks — to kill all the harmful bacteria.

In some cases, you may need surgery to replace the infected heart valve if:

  • The infection causes stroke.
  • You develop heart failure.
  • There are signs of severe organ damage.

Getting treatment right away gives you the best chance for treating the infection.