Our heart has four valves to control the blood flow in and out. They are known by the names aortic valve, mitral valve, pulmonary valve, and the tricuspid valve. Did you know that your heart valve may catch infection? Yes, the condition is called endocarditis. Here you can read the causes, symptoms, risks and treatment for the same.

What is endocarditis?

Endocarditis is the inflammation or the infection caused in the inner lining of the heart. The inner lining of the heart is known by the name ‘Endocardium.’ Hence endocarditis is the infection caused by bacteria or fungi in the endocardium. The germs will get into the blood stream and settle in the walls of the heart valve in endocarditis. This will lead to the damage of the heart valve which may further lead to a heart failure, stroke, infection in lungs, kidney etc. However, endocarditis is rare.

How do bacteria enter your heart?

Studies show that the bacteria or fungi reaches the heart’s lining through normal activities in human life like brushing the teeth, eating food, etc. The bacteria that are harmless in the mouth or upper respiratory tract may attack the heart’s tissues and lead to endocarditis. The bacteria may enter during the process of a medical or dental procedure as well. Usage of contaminated needles and syringes for injection may also cause the bacteria to enter.

Endocarditis occurs in patients mostly after 50 years of age. You are at a higher risk of developing endocarditis if you have:

  • Abnormal heart 
  • Artificial aortic valve
  • Implanted heart device like pacemaker
  • Sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, gonorrhoea etc.
  • Have a history of endocarditis
  • Undergone heart replacement surgery
  • Meningitis or pneumonia
  • Inserted urinary catheter 
  • Congenital heart disease

However, certain conditions like bypass surgery, heart attack, rheumatic fever, mitral valve prolapse etc does not put at a risk of endocarditis.
Here are the symptoms that may develop due to Endocarditis:

  • High fever, sweating at nights, dizziness etc. similar to flu
  • Loss in weight unexpectedly
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough for a longer period
  • Bleeding or red/purple spots in fingernails
  • Pain in muscles and joints
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes 
  • Chest pain
  • Swelling in abdomen and limbs 

Diagnosis of endocarditis

Endocarditis is diagnosed after a series of tests which may include:

  •     Blood culture test
  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) check-up  
  • Echocardiogram
  • CT Scan

How to treat endocarditis?
Endocarditis is treated using antibiotics, provided it is caused by bacteria. The doctor will advise you a course of antibiotics intravenously and you need to be under frequent monitoring during the treatment.
At a later stage of endocarditis, the heart valve may weaken. In such conditions, the doctor will advise for a heart valve replacement through an open heart surgery.

Here is how you can prevent endocarditis:

  • Better dental hygiene
  • Pay extra attention if you have the signs and symptoms and at a higher risk zone
  • Take proper precautions while you do piercing, tattooing, injection etc. 
  • Avoid procedures that may help bacteria to enter into the body  

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