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Endocarditis

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Endocarditis is an infection caused by bacteria that enter the bloodstream and settle in the lining of the heart, a heart valve or a blood vessel. Symptoms can mimic those of the flu or a viral illness – a low fever, night sweats, loss of appetite, body aches and fatigue.

Endocarditis does not commonly occur in people who have healthy hearts. People at greater risk are those who have a congenital heart defect or a damaged or artificial valve.

What Is Endocarditis?

Endocarditis can develop from bacteria that enter the bloodstream, travel to the heart and prey on vulnerable areas of the heart. If you do not seek treatment, this infection can further damage heart valves and even cause death.

Often, people who are at particular risk for endocarditis are aware of this vulnerability because they have an existing heart defect. Additional symptoms include high fever, chills, vomiting and a rash.

What Causes Endocarditis?

Infection-causing bacteria can enter the bloodstream through:

  • The mouth
  • Contaminated needles
  • A catheter
  • An infected area on the skin or gums
  • A sexually transmitted disease
  • A cut

People who have existing damage in a heart valve or have a valve that has been surgically treated (replaced in the past) are susceptible to this bacterial infection.

If you have had endocarditis before, you are at a greater risk for a future infection.

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Diagnosis of Endocarditis

If you have a heart defect that puts you at risk for endocarditis, always mention this to any physician who treats you. Tests physicians may use to diagnose endocarditis include:

Blood tests – Studies to detect bacteria in the bloodstream.

Chest X-ray – A radiograph or picture of the heart and lungs including blood vessels, ribs and bones of the spine.

CT scan (computed tomography scan, also called CAT scan) – An imaging procedure that uses X-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional, detailed images of the body, including bones, muscles, fat and organs.

Transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) – A test to provide an image of heart structures; a small transducer (like a microphone) is passed down the esophagus to produce the image.

Electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG) – A test that records the electrical activity of the heart.

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Treatment of Endocarditis

Antibiotics, administered intravenously, are used to treat endocarditis. Surgery to repair or replace a valve further damaged by endocartitis also may be necessary.

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Ohio State Medical Center Physicians Who Treat This Condition

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