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Endocarditis is a rare and potentially fatal type of heart infection.

It's specifically an infection of the inner lining of the heart (the endocardium), most commonly caused by bacteria entering the blood and travelling to the heart.

The heart is well protected against infection and bacteria usually pass by without causing any harm. However, if the heart valves are damaged, or if a person has an artificial valve (see below), it's easier for bacteria to take root and bypass your normal immune response to infection.

Read more about the causes of endocarditis.

Symptoms of endocarditis

The initial symptoms of endocarditis are similar to the flu and include:

  • a high temperature (fever) of or above 38C (101.4F)
  • chills
  • headache
  • joint and muscle pain

Left untreated the infection will damage the valves of the heart, disrupting the normal flow of blood through the heart.

This triggers a range of life-threatening complications, such as:

  • heart failure – where the heart is unable to pump enough blood around the body to properly meet the body’s demands
  • stroke – where the supply of blood to the brain becomes disrupted

Read more about the symptoms of endocarditis.

Treating endocarditis

Endocarditis is treated with a course of antibiotics given via a drip. You will need to be admitted to hospital for this.

Around one in five people will also need surgery to repair or replace a damaged heart valve or drain away any abscesses that develop.

Endocarditis is a serious illness, especially if complications develop. Even with the highest standard of medical care the risk of dying is high – at around one in five. Early diagnosis and treatment is vital to improve the outlook for the condition.

Read more about the treatment of endocarditis.

Who is affected

You are more at risk of developing endocarditis if you:

  • have a prosthetic (artificial) heart valvevalve replacement surgery is increasingly being used when people experience narrowing of one of their heart valves
  • have congenital heart disease – congenital heart disease means a person is born with heart defects
  • have damaged heart valves because of infection or heart disease
  • inject drugs such as heroin – heroin users are three times more likely to develop endocarditis than the population at large

Even in these higher-risk groups, endocarditis remains a rare condition. In England, for example, endocarditis is estimated to affect around one in every 3,000 people in any given year.

Endocarditis is more common in older people, with half of all cases developing in people over 50. However, cases of endocarditis have been recorded in children, particularly those born with congenital heart disease. Twice as many men are affected as women.

Although it may sound strange, rates of endocarditis are increasing because of advancements in medical care. This is because an increasing number of people are now being treated with valve replacement surgery or surgery to repair congenital heart disease.

Page last reviewed: 04/04/2014

Next review due: 04/04/2016


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Bride2 said on 18 June 2012

I had endocarditis op in 2001 following a problem with hickman line[which I had in for regular blood transfusions for mylodysplasia] & a vegetative mass on the end of it.
My husband was warned I would either be dead or brain damaged. Then not a lot was known about this disease.
11 years on I get tired easily and need anti biotics when I go for dental treatment, but I take each day with a flourish.
Since the op I have been widowed and re married

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staceyfr88 said on 08 May 2012

I found this very interesting as I was diagnosed with endocarditis at the age of 7. I t was also at this age that doctors discovered I had congenital valvular stenosis, which caused the infection. In the beginning I went through weeks and weeks of painful headaches and swollen joints. GPs were teeling my mum it was just anemia and for a while I was on iron tablets which did nothing. My mum persisted on further tests and I remember an ambulance arriving at th GPs and I was taken to John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford. I had 2 major procedures in 1 op. My aorta was replaced and my spleen was removed as it was so infected (my other organs had a very lucky escape) I then had 4 blood transfusions following my op and was in intensive care for 2 weeks. I am 24 now and pregnant with my first baby. He has had a heart scan done already and will have one again when he is born and when he reaches his teens. I really do hope he doesn't inherit the condition but know that this time it will be caught early and dealt with alot faster. If it had not been for my mums persistance, the organ donor and blood donors I would not be here today. Im very lucky to be alive! Its good to now know what my condition was and what caused it because until reading this decription I didnt have a clue.

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