Infective Endocarditis: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Infective Endocarditis refers to infection or inflammation of the inner lining of the heart. This inner lining of the heart is known as the endocardium, and the infection can be at the valves (the part of your heart that prevents blood from flowing in the wrong direction) or the heart muscle itself. Although endocarditis is not a common disease, it can be life-threatening, especially when not properly treated.

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Causes of Infective Endocarditis

Endocarditis occurs when germs, commonly bacteria, enter into your bloodstream and get to your heart, where they accumulate and cause growth (known as vegetations) on the heart valves. The germs produce toxins that damage the valves and other parts of the inner lining of the heart. This damage can also extend outside the heart to other parts of the body. Although the infection can occur in healthy individuals, it particularly affects people who already have a heart valve disease. Essentially, you risk having endocarditis if you:

  • Have an underlying heart valve disease
  • Have had a heart valve replacement and using an artificial valve
  • Have some types of in-borne heart diseases
  • Have had endocarditis before
  • Inject drugs into your vein
  • Undergo unsafe dental procedures like tooth extraction


The symptoms of endocarditis may be unclear and mimic other diseases. Generally, the symptoms include:

  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Chest pain, especially when you breathe
  • Flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, tiredness, headaches and sore throat.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Leg swelling
  • Your doctor may pick up abnormal sounds while listening to your heart.

Other less common symptoms include:

  • Tiny, pin-point, dark coloured spots on your skin.
  • Weight loss
  • Painless red or brown spots on the soles of your palms or feet
  • Dark or red painful patches on the tips of your fingers or toes.

How is Endocarditis Diagnosed?

Your doctor would take a detailed history of your symptoms and perform a thorough physical examination on you. This examination would particularly involve listening to your heart to know if your heart is making unusual sounds, which is a common event in infective endocarditis. To help in diagnosis, your doctor may further request for some tests. These tests include:

  • Blood tests: to confirm an ongoing infection (through your white blood cell count) and the presence of bacteria or other germs in your body.
  • Echocardiogram: this may reveal growths (vegetations), leakages, holes or narrowing of the heart valves or an artificial heart valve that is starting to wear off.
  • Electrocardiogram: to check for abnormal heart rhythm.


To treat endocarditis, your doctor would admit you in the hospital where you would be given antibiotics into your vein through a drip. You may be discharged if your symptoms improve. However, even after discharge, you would need to continue taking antibiotics (up to about six weeks) and have regular appointments with your doctor to monitor your treatment progress

A Word From HealthFacts to You

Infective Endocarditis is a life-threatening but treatable condition. Early diagnosis and treatment are however essential to improve outcomes. If you ever notice any symptoms that match those discussed in this post, we recommend that you see your doctor as soon as possible.

Until next time, stay healthy.