Endocarditis is an infection that affects the inner lining of the heart (the endocardium), including the heart valves. It's a rare, but potentially fatal condition that can cause damage to your heart, so it requires early diagnosis and treatment.
The symptoms of endocarditis can be hard to notice and non-specific, developing slowly over weeks or sometimes months. In some cases however, they can develop suddenly.
The most common symptoms are:
flu like symptoms with a high temperature - these include tiredness, headaches, chills, a cough and sore throat
unexplained weight loss
aching muscles and joints
a heart murmur (an abnormal heart sound)
If you've been told you're at high risk of getting endocarditis and you have flu-like symptoms with a hight temperature for longer than a week, you should see your GP.
Endocarditis is caused by bacteria, or in some rare cases another type of infective organism, for example fungi or germs, which enters into your blood stream and travels to your heart. It can be life-threatening if not treated quickly.
Endocarditis can be caused if you:
have had heart valve surgery using an artificial valve.
suffer from damage to your heart valves
have congenital heart disease
have been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
are an intravenous drug user
have poor dental hygiene and bacteria enters your bloodstream.
People with existing heart conditions resulting from infection or heart disease might also need to be monitored as their immune systems are vulnerable to bacteria.
In the early stages, the infection can be similar to other illnesses making it hard to identify.
Because of this, one or more of the following procedures may be used to diagnose endocarditis:
Blood tests to find out what type of bacteria is causing the inflammation.
An echocardiogram (echo) to look for signs of damage in your heart.
An electrocardiogram (ECG) to look for an abnormal heart rhythm.
A chest X-ray to check for fluid build up.
An MRI scan to get a clearer image of your heart.
In the early stages (when you are unwell and/or have a high temperature), you will be given a course of intravenous antibiotics through a drip in your arm in hospital. If your symptoms and temperature improve, your doctor might decide to let you go home depending on the circumstances.
To treat the endocarditis after this stage you will need to continue taking antibiotics - normally for up to six weeks. You will also need regular appointments with your GP who will take blood tests to ensure your body is fighting the infection.
Surgery could be necessary in some cases to repair the damage caused by the infection. In this case your cardiologist would discuss the most suitable options with a cardiac surgeon. Operations usually performed for endocarditis are valve repair, replacement or drainage of abscesses to clear the infection.
Sometimes, endocarditis can cause severe damage to your heart which can lead to heart failure. To detect if this might happen, you will need to be under the care of a cardiologist so your heart can be assessed and monitored regularly.