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More About Endocarditis

Bacterial endocarditis is a bacterial infection of the inner layer of the heart or the heart valves. The heart has 4 valves. These valves help the blood flow through the heart and out to the body. When a person has bacterial endocarditis, these valves may not be able to work properly. This can force the heart to work harder to get blood out to the body. Sometimes the heart can’t pump out enough blood. Bacterial endocarditis is a serious condition that can sometimes lead to death.

Bacterial endocarditis can also cause the bacteria to clump with cells and other things in the blood. These clumps are often called vegetation. They can travel to many parts of the body and cause problems.

In adults, bacterial endocarditis is more common in men than in women. It is very rare in people with normal hearts who have no other risk factors. It is much more common in people with certain heart problems or other risk factors.

In some cases, the symptoms start suddenly and are severe. This is called acute bacterial endocarditis. In other cases, it happens more slowly and is less severe. This is called subacute bacterial endocarditis.

Symptoms may come on suddenly and be severe. Or, they may happen slowly and be less severe. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Night sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Aching muscles and joints
  • Trouble breathing with exertion
  • Shortness of breath while lying down
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Blood in the urine
  • Swelling of the feet, legs, or abdomen
  • Unusual skin changes which may include:
    • Sore red or purple bumps on the fingers or toes
    • Painless, tiny flat red spots on the skin, under fingernails, on the whites of your eyes, and inside your mouth

Your health care provider will ask about your symptoms and your medical history. He or she will give you a physical exam.

You may also need tests, such as:

  • Echocardiogram to view the valves and blood flow through your heart
  • Transesophageal echocardiogram for more detailed view of the heart from the esophagus
  • Blood tests to check for bacteria and signs of inflammation
  • Electrocardiography (ECG) to analyze your heart rhythm
  • Chest x-ray to examine your lungs
  • Cardiac CT, if more information is needed about your heart
  • Urine tests to check for kidney damage
  • MRI of the brain to check for damage

See a healthcare provider right away if you have any symptoms of endocarditis.