Endocarditis is a rare, potentially fatal infection of the endocardium, or inner lining of the heart. It is usually caused by bacteria traveling through the bloodstream to the heart and is treated by IV antibiotics or heart valve replacement surgery.

As strange as it may sound, advances in medical technology are responsible for a growing number of cases of endocarditis.

Only around 3–10 people in every 100,000 will develop endocarditis each year. But the number of individuals affected by endocarditis has been growing in recent years because more people are getting heart valve replacement or having surgery for congenital heart disease.

Endocarditis, also known as infectious endocarditis, is an infection of the endocardium, or inner lining of the heart.

For most healthy individuals, the heart is well protected from infection. But for those with artificial materials in their heart or a condition that weakens their heart, it’s important to keep an eye out for symptoms of this potentially fatal condition.

Endocarditis is typically caused by bacteria. (Streptococci, staphylococci, and enterococci infections cause about 80-90% of endocarditis cases.)

The bacteria that cause endocarditis may enter your body through a cut in your skin, a needle injection site, surgery, or even dental work. After entering your body, the bacteria travels through your bloodstream to your heart. After reaching the heart, it can get trapped in the lining or attach to valves and grow. If bacteria continue to grow, it can cause inflammation and damage your heart’s valves.

In addition to damaging the heart, small clumps of bacteria may form at the infection site. In some cases, they can act like a blood clot and travel through the body. They may potentially block the blood supply to an organ, which can result in organ failure or a stroke.

In very rare cases, endocarditis may be due to a fungal infection instead of bacteria. These cases are usually harder to treat and more serious. Individuals with weakened immune systems from conditions like HIV or chemotherapy may be unable to prevent the fungal infection from growing in their body and are at greater risk for this type of endocarditis.

Symptoms of endocarditis may include:

  • high fever
  • chills
  • headaches
  • muscle and joint pain
  • fatigue
  • night sweats
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • new or changing heart murmur
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • petechiae (small red, brown, or purple spots on the skin)
  • small, painless red spots on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
  • painful red spots on your fingertips and the pads of your toes
  • narrow lines of blood under your fingernails

Many of the symptoms of endocarditis are common with other health conditions, so it’s important for doctors to rule out other potential health concerns through blood testing and scans. If endocarditis continues untreated, it may lead to other life threatening conditions like:

Men are two times more likely than women to experience endocarditis.

Individuals may be at a greater risk for endocarditis if they have:

People 65 and older also have a greater risk of developing endocarditis because changes to the heart valves that occur over time may create additional spots for germs to attach.

It’s important to keep in mind that endocarditis is rare, and most healthy individuals are not at high risk for this condition.

Endocarditis is a rare, but potentially fatal infection of the endocardium, which is the inner lining of the heart. It’s typically caused by a bacterial infection that travels through the bloodstream to your heart.

If you are showing signs of endocarditis, it’s important to get medical assistance right away. Serious conditions like sepsis, stroke, and heart failure can develop if it’s not treated quickly.