Infective endocarditis

Infective endocarditis is an infection in the heart’s lining or valve. Left untreated, it can cause valve damage or heart failure.

What causes infective endocarditis?

Infective endocarditis is primarily caused by bacteria in the bloodstream that then travel to your heart and attach to abnormal heart valves or damaged heart tissue.  Infection can occur if a heart valve becomes damaged and the body’s healing process allows bacteria to become trapped in the layers of heart tissue.

Signs and symptoms of infective endocarditis

Symptoms of infective endocarditis include:

  • Dark, splinter-like lines under your fingernails
  • Burst blood vessels in your retinas
  • Red spots on your palms and the soles of your feet
  • Painful sores on your fingertips and toes
  • Heart murmur
  • Fever and night sweats
  • Muscle ache
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Joint pain

Who is at the highest risk for endocarditis?

  • Artificial heart valves: Bacteria are more likely to attach to an artificial (prosthetic) heart valve than to a normal valve
  • Congenital heart defects: if you were born with certain heart defects, your heart may be more susceptible to infection
  • A history of endocarditis: prior episode of endocarditis damages heart tissue and valves, increasing the risk of future heart infection
  • Damaged heart valves: Certain medical conditions including rheumatic fever or infection which can damage or scar one or more of your heart valves.

History of intravenous (IV) illegal drug use: The needles used to inject illegal drugs can be contaminated with bacteria and cause endocarditis.

How is infective endocarditis diagnosed?

Your doctor may suspect endocarditis based on your medical history and physical exam signs and symptoms, including fever and new or changed heart murmur. Your doctor can diagnose infective endocarditis with a blood test. Other tests that may be used to evaluate your heart valve structure and function include:

How is infective endocarditis treated?

Intravenous antibiotics are often the first treatment for infective endocarditis. If trapped bacteria have damaged your heart valves, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair or replace the valves.