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Quick Facts

Infective Endocarditis


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Nov 2020| Content last modified Nov 2020
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"Endo-" means inside, "cardiac" refers to your heart, and "-itis" means inflammation. So, endocarditis is inflammation of the inside of your heart.

What is infective endocarditis?

Infective endocarditis is:

  • Infection of the inside of your heart

The infection may be on the lining of your heart chambers or on your heart valves.

  • Infective endocarditis happens when bacteria get into your blood and travel to your heart

  • Infective endocarditis happens mainly in abnormal heart tissue, such as occurs when you have a birth defect of the heart or damaged heart valves, or if you have an artificial heart valve

  • Infection can damage heart valves so they don't work right and cause heart failure

  • Doctors do blood tests and an echocardiogram to see if you have infective endocarditis

  • Doctors treat infective endocarditis with antibiotics and sometimes heart surgery

  • If you have an artificial heart valve or a birth defect in your heart, you may need to take antibiotics before surgery or a dental procedure to prevent endocarditis

What causes infective endocarditis?

Infective endocarditis is caused by bacteria or fungi that get into your blood and travel to your heart. Bacteria can get into your blood when you have:

You have a higher risk of getting infective endocarditis if you:

  • Were born with a heart problem

  • Have an abnormal or damaged heart valve

  • Inject recreational drugs

  • Have a weak immune system

  • Have an artificial heart valve, pacemaker, or defibrillator

  • Had infective endocarditis in the past

What are the symptoms of infective endocarditis?

Infective endocarditis usually develops slowly. But sometimes it comes on quickly.

Subacute infective endocarditis is when endocarditis develops slowly, over weeks to months. You gradually develop symptoms such as:

  • Tiredness

  • Low fever (99° to 101° F or 37.2° to 38.3° C)

  • Weight loss

  • Sweating

Acute infective endocarditis starts suddenly and you become very ill quickly. One of your heart valves may be severely damaged within days. Symptoms include:

  • High fever (102° to 104° F or 38.9° to 40° C)

  • Extreme tiredness

  • Difficulty breathing

With either type of endocarditis, you may also have:

  • Chills

  • Joint pain

  • Pale skin

  • Painful lumps under your skin

Sometimes infected material from your heart spreads through your blood to other parts of your body. You may get infections in your lungs, brain, kidneys, or other organs.

How can doctors tell if I have infective endocarditis?

Doctors suspect infective endocarditis from your symptoms. To know for sure, they'll do:

  • Echocardiography (an ultrasound of your heart)

  • Blood tests to look for bacteria

How do doctors treat infective endocarditis?

Doctors treat infective endocarditis using:

  • Antibiotics, given by vein (IV), for at least 2 weeks and up to 8 weeks

  • Sometimes, heart surgery to fix or replace a damaged heart valve

How can I prevent infective endocarditis?

To prevent infective endocarditis:

  • Don't inject recreational drugs

  • Treat infections quickly

  • Take good care of your teeth and gums

If you're at high risk of infective endocarditis, you need to be particularly careful of these things. In addition, some high-risk people may also need to:

  • Take antibiotics before certain dental or surgical procedures that can let bacteria into the body

Ask your doctor whether you're at high risk.

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