Bacterial endocarditis refers to the inflammation of the endocardium (the inner lining of the heart and the heart valves) due to a bacterial infection. This condition usually affects people with congenital heart defects (a hole in the heart or endocardium or defects in the tendons attached to the heart). In its acute form, there is a sudden onset with a severe infection. In subacute bacterial endocarditis, the infection occurs gradually over weeks or months. Problems could arise if this condition goes undetected for several weeks or months. In the absence of treatment, the condition would continue to worsen, before it becomes life-threatening in nature.
This condition is usually caused by Streptococci viridans, which is a strain of Streptococcus bacteria. Other bacteria that might cause this infection include Enterococci and Coagulase negative staphylococcus. People who are affected by a form of gastrointestinal cancer are susceptible. Bacteria could gain entry into bloodstream due to the use of unsterilized syringes, or during dental procedures or other surgeries, and then travel to the heart. People with prosthetic heart valves, rheumatic valve dysfunction, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, etc., are also at a risk of developing this infection.
Signs and symptoms might vary. A mild fever of about 102°F (38.9°C) is the most common sign of this condition. Other symptoms include headache, chills, weakness, malaise, cough, breathing problems, joint pain, appetite loss, Osler's nodes (raised lesions) on fingers and toes, nail clubbing, petechiae, hemorrhages under finger and toe nails, tenderness in the spleen, blood in urine, etc.
When a patient with a history of heart ailments exhibits the aforementioned signs, the doctor may use a stethoscope to listen to the heart murmur. Blood tests and blood culture would be conducted to identify the causative agent for the infection. Echocardiography will help in detecting any abnormalities in the heart wall structure, growth of abnormal tissue, regurgitation of blood through heart valves, etc.
In the absence of treatment, there's a risk of infections in other parts of the body, congestive heart failure, renal problems, cerebral vascular complications, etc. Problems could arise if blood clots travel to lungs or the brain. Thus, it is important to seek immediate treatment. The treatment involves the use of antibiotics (penicillin) to get rid of the bacteria. In severe cases, intravenous administration of antibiotics would be required. If the heart valve is damaged, the patient may require surgery. In some cases, the bacteria tend to become resistant to the antibiotics. In such cases, doctors might prescribe different antibiotics.
Subacute bacterial endocarditis is a treatable condition, provided medical assistance is sought on time. The prognosis also varies, depending on the patient's medical history and current health condition. Since people with heart defects are at a risk, they must seek medical help on experiencing the aforementioned symptoms.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.