Endocarditis is a disorder that is fortunately rare in individuals who have healthy hearts. However, it can develop suddenly or slowly. Those with symptoms of this condition need excellent medical care at a the state-of-the art cardiovascular center. Understanding the basics of this condition helps patients form realistic expectations about their care.
Overview of Endocarditis
This condition is an inflammation of the heart. Most often the result of a bacterial infection, it is occasionally caused by fungal activity. MedlinePlus notes that sometimes doctors are unable to find the cause. The inflammation affects the endocardium, the inner lining of the heart’s chambers and valves.
The most likely ways germs get into the blood and move to a patient’s heart include:
- Through a central venous line
- From unsterile needles used to inject drugs
- After dental surgery
- Following certain major or minor procedures, such as those performed on the urinary tract
According to research reported at PLOS ONE, a number of studies have estimated the incidence of this condition at 4 cases per 100,000 individuals. More recent research suggests it might be higher.
The Mayo Clinic indicates that endocarditis has many potential symptoms. Among the most common are these:
- Chills and fever
- New heart murmur
- Aches in muscles and joints
- A persistent cough
- Weight loss
- Abdominal or limb swelling
- Spleen tenderness
- Blood in the urine
The most important possible complications of the disorder include:
- Strokes and damage to organs
- Infections that strike areas outside the heart
- Actual heart failure
Treatment at a Cardiovascular Center
Based on a patient’s medical history and a physical exam, a cardiovascular specialist might suspect endocarditis. Since in its earliest stages the illness can mimic other disorders, physicians often order these tests to make a diagnosis:
- Blood tests to look for bacteria and anemia
- Electrocardiogram to assess the electrical phases of the patient’s heartbeat
- Transesophageal echocardiogram to examine the heart valves
- Chest X-rays to evaluate the heart and the lungs
- CT or MRI scan to determine if an infection has moved to areas outside the heart
Physicians are able to choose the appropriate antibiotic or combination to treat endocarditis based on results of blood cultures. Patients sometimes need to receive intravenous antibiotics while in a hospital and continue them at home for a total of four to six weeks of treatment.
When endocarditis damages a patient’s heart valves, symptoms can persist and complications might develop years after antibiotics. In some cases, surgery is the recommendation for infections that linger, for replacement of damaged valves, or to treat endocarditis linked to a fungal cause.
Surgery could mean either repairing a damaged heart valve or replacing it. Replacement valves might consist of man-made material or come from an animal.
Sometimes cardiovascular specialists recommend preventive antibiotics before medical or dental procedures the might allow bacteria into the bloodstream.