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Infective Endocarditis: A Dangerous, Hard-to-Diagnose Condition

Most of the time, your heart’s valves and lining stay healthy and free of infection. But they can sometimes develop infective endocarditis. The disease can strike anyone, but certain groups of people are at higher risk, according to Amitoj Singh, MD, a cardiologist at Banner – University Medicine North in Tucson, AZ. You’re at higher risk if:

  • You use intravenous drugs
  • You have had a heart transplant
  • You were born with congenital heart disease
  • You have diabetes
  • You have a catheter or port
  • You’re immunocompromised
  • You have a heart condition, particularly if you have artificial valves, a pacemaker or a history of heart surgery
  • You’ve had infective endocarditis in the past

What causes infective endocarditis?

“It’s mainly bacterial infections that are to blame for infective endocarditis, and Streptococcus and Staphylococcus are the two most common. Fungi can cause it as well,” Dr. Singh said.

What are the symptoms of infective endocarditis?

Infective endocarditis can be tough to diagnose because many different diseases or conditions could cause its symptoms in its early stages. On the list are fever, decreased appetite, fatigue and other symptoms. “This disease can be very insidious (growing in a very gradual and subtle way) and can mimic many other diseases,” Dr. Singh said. “It’s important for your physician to suspect it, especially if you’re at high risk.”

Symptoms can escalate quickly. “Infective endocarditis can become serious, with symptoms like low blood pressure, stroke-like symptoms and shortness of breath,” Dr. Singh said. “Early treatment is essential since it can lead to multi-organ failure and death.”

How can you prevent infective endocarditis?

Since using intravenous drugs increases your risk, avoiding IV drug use can decrease your risk.

If you have diabetes, keep it well-managed. Be diligent about caring for your feet. If you need to, see a podiatrist regularly and treat any skin infections quickly. That can help prevent infections from spreading to your heart.

If you’re at higher risk for infective endocarditis, talk to your doctor about taking antibiotics before you have dental work or other procedures done. That can help reduce your risk of dangerous infections. And steer clear of oral steroids unless your doctor recommends otherwise. They can make infective endocarditis more dangerous.

How is infective endocarditis treated?

If you have infective endocarditis, you’ll probably need to be hospitalized. Your health care providers can develop a treatment plan based on how severe the infection is and what is causing the infection. You will likely have an internal medicine specialist or hospitalist, a cardiologist and an infectious disease specialist working on your treatment recommendations.

Milder or more simple infections might need one or more intravenous antibiotics for 4 to 12 weeks. Complicated infections might require heart surgery as well.

The bottom line

While infective endocarditis is more common in people who use intravenous drugs, anyone can develop this dangerous heart condition. Know your risk factors and the symptoms and seek care right away if you think you might have infective endocarditis.

Our health care providers can help you manage your conditions and keep your risk for health problems like infective endocarditis to a minimum. Connect with a provider today and take control of your health.

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Heart Health Infectious Disease