A rare condition that can cause damage to your heart

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About endocarditis

Endocarditis is a rare, potentially fatal infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocardium), usually affecting the heart valves. It often occurs when bacteria enters the blood and travels to the heart. Previous heart valve surgery, valvular abnormalities or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can all be major risk factors.

Need to know

If you have this type of infection, you'll probably notice certain flu-like symptoms, which might include:

  • high temperature
  • night sweats
  • chills
  • headaches
  • aching muscles and joints
  • unexplained weight loss
  • shortness of breath
  • a heart murmur

You may find the symptoms develop quickly in just a few days, which is known as acute endocarditis, or more slowly over weeks or even months.

As many of the symptoms of endocarditis are similar to other types of infection, it will probably be diagnosed through a number of tests.

These can include:

  • a physical assessment
  • looking at your medical history
  • blood tests
  • an echocardiogram
  • an electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • a transoesophageal echocardiogram (TOE heart scan)

Your consultant will also consider risk factors such as:

  • previous heart valve surgery
  • pre-existing abnormalities in your heart valves
  • congenital heart disease
  • hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • intravenous drug use
  • recent dental surgery or poor dental hygiene
To treat endocarditis, you will be given a course of antibiotics that usually lasts for two to six weeks. These may need to be taken intravenously through a drip in your arm, at least early in the treatment, so you might need to spend time in hospital. Regular blood tests will monitor how well the treatment is working. You'll also need regular checks if you're taking antibiotics at home. Once the infection has cleared, a cardiologist will want to assess the damage to your heart, as you might need surgery to repair or replace damaged heart valves.

Patient stories

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.