Endocarditis signs and symptoms vary, but may include:
-Fever and chills.
-A new or changed heart murmur — heart sounds made by blood rushing through your heart.
-Aching joints and muscles.
-Shortness of breath.
-Swelling in your feet, legs or abdomen
-Unexplained weight loss
-Blood in your urine (either visible or found in a doctor’s viewing of your urine under a microscope)
-Tenderness in your spleen — an infection-fighting abdominal organ on your left side, just below your rib cage
-Osler’s nodes — red, tender spots under the skin of your fingers
-Petechiae (puh-TEE-key-ee) — tiny purple or red spots on the skin, whites of your eyes or inside your mouth.
Endocarditis occurs when germs enter your bloodstream, travel to your heart, and attach to abnormal heart valves or damaged heart tissue. Bacteria cause most cases, but fungi or other microorganisms also may be responsible.
Sometimes the culprit is one of many common bacteria that live in your mouth, throat or other parts of your body. The offending organism may enter your bloodstream through:
- Everyday oral activities. Activities such as brushing your teeth or chewing food can allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream — especially if your teeth and gums aren’t healthy.
- An infection or other medical condition. Bacteria may spread from an infected area, such as a skin sore. Gum disease, a sexually transmitted infection or an intestinal disorder — such as inflammatory bowel disease — also may give bacteria the opportunity to enter your bloodstream.
- Catheters or needles. Bacteria can enter your body through a catheter — a thin tube that doctors sometimes use to inject or remove fluid from the body. The bacteria that can cause endocarditis can also enter your bloodstream through the needles used for tattooing or body piercing. Contaminated needles and syringes are a special concern for people who use intravenous (IV) drugs.
- Certain dental procedures. Some dental procedures that can cut your gums may allow bacteria to enter your bloodstream.
Usually, your immune system destroys bacteria that make it into your bloodstream. Even if bacteria reach your heart, they may pass through without causing an infection.
Most people who develop endocarditis have a diseased or damaged heart valve — an ideal spot for bacteria to settle. This damaged tissue in the endocardium provides bacteria with the roughened surface they need to attach and multiply. Endocarditis does occasionally occur on previously normal heart valves.
The first line of treatment for endocarditis is antibiotics. Sometimes, if your heart valve is damaged by your infection, surgery is necessary.
If you have endocarditis, you may need high doses of intravenous (IV) antibiotics in the hospital. Blood tests may help identify the type of microorganism that’s infecting your heart. This information will help your doctor choose the best antibiotic or combination of antibiotics to fight the infection.
You will usually need to take antibiotics for two to six weeks or longer to clear up the infection. Once your fever and the worst of your signs and symptoms have passed, you may be able to leave the hospital and continue IV antibiotic therapy with visits to your doctor’s office or at home with home-based care. You’ll need to see your doctor regularly to make sure your treatment is working.
Report to your doctor any signs or symptoms that your infection is getting worse, such as:
- Joint pain
- Shortness of breath
Diarrhea, a rash, itching or joint pain may indicate a reaction to an antibiotic — another reason to call your doctor.
See your doctor immediately if you experience shortness of breath or swelling in your legs, ankles or feet. These signs and symptoms may indicate heart failure.
If the infection damages your heart valves, you may have symptoms and complications for years after treatment. Sometimes surgery is needed to treat persistent infections or to replace a damaged valve. Surgery is also sometimes needed to treat endocarditis that’s caused by a fungal infection.
Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend either repairing your damaged valve or replacing it with an artificial valve made of animal tissue or man-made materials.