The heart is safely nestled deep in the chest and covered by a protective layer of tissues, which help to combat infections. But occasionally bacteria and viruses in the blood can invade the heart, resulting in inflammation and heart infections.
A heart infection is a serious condition that can lead to heart damage and life-threatening complications. Bacteria, viruses, and in rare cases, fungi can cause a heart infection. These problems are temporary and somewhat mild. The heart has three main layers, where an infection can affect any of these sites in the heart.
Types Of Heart Infection
Endocarditis is an infection of the endocardium, the innermost layer of the heart. The endocardium lines inside of the four heart chambers and heart valves. It is one of the most common types of a heart infection and develops in people with pre-existing valve disease and other heart issues.
Myocarditis is an infection of the myocardium, the middle layer or membrane covering the heart. A viral infection is the most common cause of myocarditis. It is a rare type of heart infection.
Pericarditis is an infection of the pericardium, the outer membrane covering the heart. It mostly develops in men in the age group of 20 to 50 years from a viral infection.
People suffering with endocarditis develop symptoms quickly and it can be life-threatening. However, they can also be indefinite and develop gradually over months, and this is called sub-acute or chronic endocarditis.
Common symptoms of a heart infection include:
Fever with chills and sweats
Shortness of breath
Fluid retention in the abdomen or lower extremities
Symptoms that may indicate a life-threatening condition that needs immediate medical attention include:
Confusion or disorientation
Drooping on one side of the face
Sudden vision loss
Sudden weakness or numbness
Paralysis on one side of the body or face
Bacteria is the most common cause of endocarditis, while viral and fungal endocarditis is less common. Bacteria invade the bloodstream, travel to the heart, and attach to valves or other surfaces. This happens as a result of infections in the skin, mouth, lungs, gut, or urinary tract. Sometimes gum disease or certain dental procedures can also lead to a heart infection. Getting tattoos or body piercings are some of the other ways, where bacteria can invade the bloodstream.
Heart valves are also highly vulnerable to infection as they do not have a direct supply of blood, which makes it hard for the immune system to fight. Once the heart valve is infected, the white blood cells have a tough time combatting it.
People with a high risk of developing endocarditis includes:
People with artificial heart valves or pacemaker in the heart
Congenital heart defects
Damaged heart valves
Kidney disease and patient on dialysis
Intravenous drug abuse
How To Reduce Risk Of Heart Infection?
Some of the measures that may help to lower the risk of heart infections include:
Keeping cuts, wounds, and sores clean and avoiding any skin infections. Seed prompt medical help if wounds do not heal.
Maintain teeth and gums healthy, and get regular dental check-ups.
If you are at high risk of endocarditis, know the symptoms and seek medical help right away if you experience any of the symptoms.
The doctor will completely evaluate the patient asking about detailed medical history, any existing heart problem, and recent medical procedures such as operations, biopsy, or endoscopy. The patient is also monitored for any fever, presence of nodules, and other signs and symptoms.
Some of the tests suggested by the doctor to confirm the diagnosis include:
Blood Culture Test: To check for bacteria or fungi in the blood sample.
Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR): Patients with high ESR, there is more chance of inflammation.
Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram can reveal clumps of bacteria and cells, known as vegetation, and infected or damaged heart tissue.
The main mode of treatment for endocarditis is antibiotics. The physician will prescribe drugs based on the specific organism that is causing the infection. Generally, IV antibiotics are given as the infection is inside the heart. So this requires hospitalization for about a week. Sometimes a patient may need IV antibiotics for up to eight weeks to completely fight infection.
In severe or recurrent cases, surgery may be needed to remove the source of infection and prevent complications. People who are infected with fungal endocarditis are more likely to need surgery.