There are many illnesses and conditions that can plague the heart: Heart failure, heart attack, angina, palpitations, heart disease and endocarditis. These are just some examples of heart health conditions that affect how the heart functions. Some heart conditions can even be fatal.
Endocarditis, in particular, is a condition of the heart where an infection occurs within the heart’s lining, the endocardium. Germs and bacteria enter the body and spread throughout the bloodstream. Because all blood eventually enters the heart, the germs and bacteria make their way to the heart as well.
Endocarditis can cause damage to the heart; heart valves included, and even be life-threatening. Endocarditis is rare in those with healthy hearts but there are risks factors that may make a person more prone to being diagnosed with it.
Types of endocarditis
There are two types of endocarditis: Infective and non-infective. Typically, infective endocarditis is easier to treat in comparison to non-infective endocarditis.
Infective endocarditis presents as an infection, and non-infective endocarditis is the heart’s response to trauma. In non-infective endocarditis, sterile platelets and fimbriae thrombi form on the cardiac valves.
Causes of endocarditis
Infective endocarditis is more common and there are many ways bacteria and germs can enter the bloodstream. Some ways bacteria and germs can enter the blood and cause endocarditis is:
- Through your mouth – while brushing your teeth or eating
- Infection of another medical condition – gum disease, sexually transmitted disease etc.
- Catheters or needles
- Dental procedures.
Generally when bacteria enters the body our immune response is to fight it, this can be seen in those who are healthy. If a person has a medical condition already, their heart or immune system may not be as strong to fight off the bacteria that can cause endocarditis.
To know if you have endocarditis, here are the possible symptoms associated with the illness.
- Aching joints
- Night sweats
- Persistent cough
- Blood in urine
- Swelling of limbs and extremities
- Shortness of breath
- New or changed heart murmur
- Petechiae – tiny red or purple spots on the skin or on the whites of the eyes
- Osler’s nodes – red, tiny spots under the skin of fingers
- Unexplained weight loss.
5 risk factors associated with endocarditis
It is rare to experience or develop endocarditis if you have a healthy heart. If you have these risk factors you are more likely to develop endocarditis.
- Prosthetic heart valves – Germs are more likely to stick to prosthetic heart valves as opposed to a normal heart valve
- Congenital heart defects – Heart conditions people are born with
- Prior diagnosis of endocarditis – Endocarditis damages heart valves. Even if previously treated, the damage is still on the heart valve making a person more susceptible to develop endocarditis again
- Damaged heart valve – Whether caused by a previous episode of endocarditis or another heart condition, such as rheumatic fever
- History of IV drug use – Intravenous drug use can raise one’s risk of endocarditis.
Treatment and prevention of endocarditis
The type of endocarditis, infective or non-infective, can determine treatment options. Typically antibiotics can be used to treat endocarditis. If a person has non-infective endocarditis, anti-coagulation drugs, such as warfarin or heparin, are used for treatment. It’s important to note that treatment of non-infective endocarditis using anticoagulation drugs, which help stop blood clots, does require further study and trials.
Surgery may also be an option for endocarditis. A surgeon might elect to replace the damaged heart valve or treat any lingering infection that may be present.
The best way to avoid endocarditis is through active prevention. Since endocarditis is rarely found in healthy hearts, it’s important to practice heart healthy lifestyle choices. Furthermore, proper oral hygiene is also an effective means to prevent endocarditis.