Endocarditis is a rare, but fatal infection of the inner lining of the heart (the endocardium), which is most commonly caused by bacteria entering the heart via the blood. It is normal for the heart to be protected from the bacteria, but in some cases, the bacteria will be able to enter the heart.
If someone has:
An artificial heart valve - usually put in place if someone is found to have a narrowing heart valve
A congenital heart disease - a heart defect that is from birth
hypertrophic cardiomyopathy - when the muscle tissue is enlarged and the chamber walls thicken
A damaged heart valve - due to infection or heart disease
A history of intravenous drug abuse - the needles that are used can be contaminated, resulting in bacteria entering the bloodstream.
It may be easier for bacteria to by-pass the immune system and therefore get into the heart. It is rare for people with a healthy heart to get this, however, it can still occur.
Endocarditis can develop slowly or suddenly depending on the nature of the bacteria that is infecting the heart.
Symptoms of endocarditis include:
Fevers and chills- flu-like symptoms
Shortness of breath and chest pains
Swelling in the legs and feet
Aching joints or muscles
The bacteria can form into clumps, called vegetations, near the site of the infection. If one of the clumps break loose and travels to the brain, lungs, kidney or limbs, it can be similar to a blood clot and cause severe complications such as a stroke.
It is hard to prevent someone from getting endocarditis, however, there are life changes that you can make to ensure that your risk is reduced. This includes:
Ensuring that you know all the symptoms, and seeking the advice of a doctor if you develop any of the signs or symptoms
Having a good dental routine- this includes brushing and flossing your teeth and gums regularly and having dental check-ups
Avoiding having tattoos and piercings as this can introduce new bacteria to the body.
This article is intended to inform and give insight but not treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a doctor. Always seek medical advice with any questions regarding a medical condition.