Endocarditis

Endocarditis against a healthy heart Endocarditis is an infection that affects the inner lining of the heart (the endocardium), including the heart valves. It’s a rare, but potentially fatal condition that can cause damage your heart, so it requires early diagnosis and treatment.

What are the symptoms of endocarditis?

The symptoms of endocarditis can be hard to notice and non-specific, developing slowly over weeks or sometimes months. In some cases however, they can develop suddenly. 

The most common symptoms are: 

  • flu like symptoms with a high temperature – these include tiredness, headaches, chills, a cough and sore throat
  • unexplained weight loss
  • pale skin
  • aching muscles and joints
  • a heart murmur (an abnormal heart sound).

If you’ve been told you’re at high risk of getting endocarditis and you have flu-like symptoms with a high temperature for longer than a week, you should see your GP.

What causes endocarditis?

Endocarditis is caused by bacteria, or in some rare cases another type of infective organism, for example fungi or germs, which enters into your bloodstream and travels to your heart. It can be life-threatening if not treated quickly.

Endocarditis can be caused if you:

People with existing heart conditions resulting from infection or heart disease might also need to be monitored as their immune systems are vulnerable to bacteria.

How is endocarditis diagnosed?

In the early stages, the infection can be similar to other illnesses making it hard to identify.

Because of this, one or more of the following procedures may be used to diagnose endocarditis:

How is endocarditis treated?

In the early stages (when you are unwell and/or have a high temperature), you will be given a course of intravenous antibiotics through a drip in your arm in hospital. If your symptoms and temperature improve, your doctor might decide to let you go home depending on the circumstances. 

To treat the endocarditis after this stage you will need to continue taking antibiotics – normally for up to six weeks. You will also need regular appointments with your GP who will take blood tests to ensure your body is fighting the infection. 

Surgery could be necessary in some cases to repair the damage caused by the infection. In this case your cardiologist would discuss the most suitable options with a cardiac surgeon. Operations usually performed for endocarditis are valve repair, replacement or drainage of abscesses to clear the infection.

What are the possible complications of endocarditis?

Sometimes, endocarditis can cause severe damage to your heart which can lead to heart failure. To detect if this might happen, you will need to be under the care of a cardiologist so your heart can be assessed and monitored regularly.

Psychological support for living with endocarditis

Living with a heart condition can be emotionally challenging for you and your family. It is important to manage anxiety and stress and there are many outlets of support to help you.

You can use the following ways to get mental support for dealing with endocarditis:

  • Talk to your GP about being referred for counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
  • Utilise Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services across the country.
  • Call us on 0300 330 3311 to speak to one of our nurses on our heart helpline between 9-5, Monday to Friday.
  • Join our online community platform, HealthUnlocked. Members include those who have been affected by the same condition.

Leading the fight against heart disease

The BHF is the largest independent funder of cardiovascular research in the UK. Some highlights of our heart failure research include:

  • Investigating a link between inflammation and atrial fibrillation. Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s response to infection and injury, but is also linked to other diseases, particularly coronary heart disease (CHD), the major cause of heart attacks.
  • Looking at ways that bacteria stick to medical devices, like artificial heart valves, to help us understand how to prevent this happening and reducing the risk of infections.

Our life saving research is powered by your support. Every pound raised, helps make a difference to people's lives. Join our fight for every heartbeat.

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Want to know more?

Order or download our publications:

Inflammation and your heart

Information Sheet

Heart attack booklet

Heart attack

Booklet

Heart rhythms booklet

Heart rhythms

Booklet