The human heart is made of three main layers: the endocardium, the myocardium and the epicardium. All three layers perform different vital functions for the heart. The innermost layer is the endocardium that separates the heart layers from the blood, the thickest one is myocardium that contracts and creates the necessary force to pump out the blood and the outermost layer is the epicardium that is joined with the pericardium to protect the heart within the lung cavity.
When this innermost layer called the endocardium develops an infection, the condition is called the endocarditis.
What are the Causes of Endocarditis?
This condition usually develops because of bacterial, viral or fungal infection. Bacterial endocarditis is the most common form of the condition.
Typically, these disease-causing pathogens enter the body through our orifices like nose, mouth or ear. Mostly our immune system should be able to kill these pathogens but in some cases, the immune system may not be able to fight off the infection. These then gradually reach the bloodstream through which they enter the heart where there cause inflammation.
Apart from infection, you could develop this condition if you do not have a good oral hygiene, if you contract a sexually transmitted disease, if you use a contaminated needle or via an intravenous catheter.
How do you Diagnose Endocarditis?
Since the most common cause of the disease is an infection, blood culture tests are used to confirm or rule out the presence of bacteria, virus or fungi. An echocardiogram can be used to view the heart valves and look for any signs of abnormality. An electrocardiogram can be used to check if there is any abnormality in the heart’s rhythm. A chest X-ray can be used to check for presence of fluid buildup in the lung that can help differentiate endocarditis from other lung disorders.
If the diagnosis reveals you have endocarditis, then treatment mainly includes the use of intravenous antibiotics or surgery.
What Can Make Endocarditis Worse?
Endocarditis is usually not common in patients who have a healthy heart, although occasionally it is still possible. The major risk factor for this condition would be a previous history of heart disease, which may include scarring caused by damaged heart valves, artificial heart valve replacement, prior episode of endocarditis, or any other congenital heart defect. All these conditions have the potential of compromising the immune system and increasing the likelihood of developing a heart infection. In addition, the people who use intravenous drugs are also at a great risk for developing endocarditis as the needles may be contaminated with bacteria.
If this condition is not promptly treated, it will cause permanent damage to your heart valves. This will further cause other complications such as an abnormal heart rate, the development of jaundice due to high levels of bilirubin in the blood, or formation of blood clots that may spread to other parts of the body through the blood stream to cause obstruction. The original bacteria can also travel to other internal organs such as your brain, lungs, or kidneys to cause injury. This could lead to seizures, kidney damage, paralysis etc. In severe cases, endocarditis can lead to a stroke and eventual heart failure.
Presence of an underlying risk factor will increase the probability of developing endocarditis and will also increase the chance of the condition worsening. If you have any of these risk factors, then you should consult your doctor if you develop symptoms of persistent fever or if you experience inexplicable fatigue. You should also maintain good oral hygiene and dental health and avoid procedures that could lead to skin infections such as piercing or tattoos.
Patients who are diagnosed early have good recovery with antibiotic treatment. Patients who have developed complications needing surgical intervention usually tend to have a more guarded prognosis.
- Infective Endocarditis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment
- Is Endocarditis Life Threatening?
- What Is The Most Common Cause Of Infective Endocarditis?
- Can a Person Die From Endocarditis?