Endocarditis: What Is It And How Is It Treated?

Endocarditis affects the heart muscle and the valves. The condition affects both sexes equally and can occur at any age. However, it is also a curable condition when caught early, so it is important to understand endocarditis symptoms, causes, treatments, and complications associated with delayed treatment. Without proper treatment, you are at risk for heart failure and possibly death. 

Endocarditis Causes

Endocarditis occurs when bacteria or fungi enter your bloodstream and infect your heart valves and lining. If you already have heart damage, the bacteria or fungi that make their way into your bloodstream can cause further damage to your heart valves, linings, and muscles. 

The risk of heart-valve damage increases if you have rheumatic fever or congenital heart disease. The risk of developing endocarditis occurring after heart-valve damage increases under certain circumstances.

  • Using intravenous drugs
  • During pregnancy
  • Having artificial heart valves
  • Taking prescription immunosuppressive drugs

You can lower your risk of endocarditis by requesting your doctor to prescribe antibiotics prior to any medical procedures that may introduce bacteria into the bloodstream, including surgery of the gastrointestinal tract, dental work, and childbirth. You can also lower your risk by not using heroin, cocaine or other illicit drugs that are injected into the system. 

Endocarditis Symptoms

The symptoms of endocarditis can vary by stage of the disease. You should know the early symptoms to get prompt treatment.

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Heart murmur
  • Weight loss
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Night sweats

Later you may develop other symptoms, which are often more severe.

  • Shortness of breath
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Severe chills
  • High fever
  • Swelling in the legs, feet and abdomen

Endocarditis Treatment

If you know you have damaged heart valves, share this health information with any dentist or doctor who treats you. It is important to have regular dental care to prevent infection.

Endocarditis is often treated with a course of antibiotics, and surgery is often needed to replace damaged heart valves, known as heart valve surgery.

A cardiovascular surgeon performs the procedure in a hospital. You will be under general anesthesia and have an airway tube placed in your windpipe. During surgery, the surgeon makes an incision in the chest to divide the breastbone, open the chest, and expose the heart. To sustain life during surgery, a heart-lung machine circulates blood through your body. 

Diseased valves are removed and replaced with artificial valves. The surgeon closes incision of the heart with fine sutures, while the chest incision is closed using wire sutures.

All surgeries come with risk, and heart valve surgery has several.

  • Blood clotting in a valve
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Wound infection
  • Kidney damage or failure
  • Heart attack

In rare cases, your heart may fail to beat normally after surgery. You'll spend about a week in the hospital following surgery where doctors can monitor you during your early healing process. 

If you have symptoms of endocarditis, you need to schedule an exam with a cardiologist. He or she can conduct an exam, which may include x-rays of the heart, an ECG, and blood cultures to make a diagnosis. If left untreated, endocarditis can cause your heart function to decline, which may result in congestive heart failure and death. Talk to experts like Cardiology Associates Of Schenectady PC for more information.