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Endocarditis
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Endocarditis

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HEART & BLOOD

Heart Disease

Endocarditis is a relatively uncommon but potentially dangerous type of carditis (heart inflammation), usually caused by heart infection in vulnerable areas. The heart is a pump about the size of your fist. The wall of your heart consists of a thick layer of muscle wrapped in a thin membrane called the pericardium. The inside of your heart consists of four chambers and four valves lined by a thin membrane called the endocardium. Endocarditis is an infection of this inner lining.

Treatment

If your doctor suspects that you have endocarditis, you'll need hospitalization and treatment with high doses of intravenous antibiotics. Your doctor will perform blood cultures to identify the type of microorganism that's infecting your heart. Knowing the germ that's the cause helps your doctors choose the best antibiotic to fight the infection.

It's possible to have culture-negative endocarditis, meaning that you have signs and symptoms of the condition, but blood tests can't confirm the microorganism causing your infection. In this case, your doctor may prescribe several medications.

Even if the source of your infection is obvious, your doctor may use a combination of antibiotics to successfully treat your infection. That's because treatment of endocarditis has become more complicated in recent years as many germs have become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, probably because of the overuse of antibiotics for minor infections.

You'll likely need to take antibiotics for about four to six weeks. However, once your fever and the worst of your symptoms have passed, you may be able to continue antibiotic therapy at home. You'll just need to make regular appointments with your doctor so he or she can make sure your treatment is working and not causing side effects.

If you experience any complications of endocarditis, such as shortness of breath or swelling in your legs, ankles or feet — which may indicate heart failure — see your doctor immediately. Fever, headaches, joint pain, blood in your urine and chills may indicate that an antibiotic isn't working and that your infection is worsening — another reason to call your doctor. Finally, if you experience diarrhea, a rash, itching or joint pain, you may be having a reaction to an antibiotic. If you develop such side effects, tell your doctor.

Treatment for endocarditis can usually rid your heart of infection. But if the infection has damaged your heart valves, you may have continued symptoms and complications for years after treatment. You may need surgery for infections that persist or to replace a damaged valve.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 12:28 AM