The heart is a vital organ that pumps blood continuously supplying oxygen and nutrients to every cell in the body. When the inner layer of the heart, the endocardium gets inflamed it leads to a condition called as endocarditis.
What is Endocarditis?
A potentially fatal infection of the heart is endocarditis. The inner heart layer or lining is called as the endocardium. When the bacteria that gain entry into the blood reaches the heart, it may cause infection of the endocardium. This occurs only when the heart valves have a defect or are damaged. It may even infect mechanical devices or valves like pacemakers, defibrillators, etc.
Although it is not a common condition, it does affect quite a many patients leading to stroke and even death. It rarely affects people with a healthy heart.
Symptoms of Endocarditis
Symptoms of endocarditis occur gradually or suddenly, about 2 weeks after the infection. Some of the symptoms include:
- Weakness in the extremities
- Swelling of the feet, abdomen
- Joint pain
- Loss of appetite
- Blood in urine
- Excessive sweating
- Appearance of tiny red or pink spots on skin or under the fingernails
- Painful and sore fingers and toes
Causes of Endocarditis
Endocarditis occurs when microorganisms enter the blood stream and reach a damaged heart. These microorganisms include bacteria, fungi, etc.
Some of the ways microorganisms gain entry into the bloodstream include:
- Weak gums and teeth with open sores, infection and wounds can allow the bacteria to gain entry into the blood.
- Sexually transmitted diseases, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), skin diseases as well as other medical conditions can lead to the spread of microorganisms into the blood.
- People who carry out body piercing, body art or are given intravenous (IV) drugs can suffer from an infection due to use of unsterile needles.
- Use of catheter can also lead to introduction of microorganisms into the blood stream.
Not all microorganisms that enter the body through blood are capable of causing endocarditis. Certain organisms, mainly, bacteria that can attach themselves to the heart lining. They stick near regions of abnormal valves, mechanical devices or damaged heart regions. People who suffer from heart conditions like:
- Congenital heart defects
- Abnormal valves
- Cardiac valve surgery
- Mitral valve prolapsed
- Infective endocarditis
- Artificial heart devices
- High blood pressure that damages heart tissues
Diagnosis of Endocarditis
Endocarditis is diagnosed based on the physical examination of the patient, along with a few tests carried out for confirmation. These tests include:
- Blood tests to identify microbial infection, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test
- Listening to heartbeats and abnormal sounds with stethoscope
- CT Scan
Treatment for Endocarditis
Antibiotic therapy is the first choice for treatment of endocarditis. The patient may be given antibiotics intravenously for about 4 to 6 weeks. If antibiotics fail to make a progress, then the patient is suggested with surgery.
Damage to heart valves, or complications due to endocarditis requires surgery. The patient may have to undergo open-heart surgery to remove the infected valve, tissue or repair any damage to the heart valve.
Complications of Endocarditis
Endocarditis can lead to heart complications due to bacterial infection.
These complications include:
- Valve damage that prevents the normal functioning of the valve. The damage can be so extensive, that one may require surgical valve replacement.
- Congestive heart failure in case of severe bacterial infection that damages the heart tissues.
- Heartbeat irregularities, especially slow heartbeats. The infection affects the heart pumping action of the heart. Thus, the patient suffers from dizzy spells, fainting, etc.
At times, the bacteria infection of the heart can spread to other organs called as bacterial emboli. This causes blockage of the blood vessels damaging the organs connected to it.
Prevention of Endocarditis
One can prevent occurrence of endocarditis by taking care of certain factors that leads to introduction of organisms into the blood. This includes:
- Using an antimicrobial mouth wash to prevent bacterial infection
- Flossing and brushing teeth regularly. Guidelines for effective brushing and flossing
- Treatment of any infection with antibiotic therapy, especially in case of patients who already suffer from an existing heart condition or have artificial heart devices implanted. Use of Antibiotics
Prognosis of Endocarditis
Timely treatment can help in improving the chances of survival due to endocarditis. However, it is a serious disease, and can turn fatal, even after surgical intervention.
People with heart disease or artificial implantations should speak to their doctor in advance about endocarditis. Get regular checkups for early detection of any infection in or around the heart. Prevention of endocarditis is the best way to prevent any complications arising due to this potentially fatal infection.
Written by: www.healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: February 23, 2016