Heart infections may be caused by a multitude of factors, including post-surgical infection, bacteria, gum disease or as a result of respiratory or dental procedures. Congenital heart defects, the presence of heart valves or damaged heart valves may all contribute to infections. Learning about different types of common heart infections, as well as the symptoms of a heart infection may help individuals seek prompt treatment that helps prevent more serious complications from developing.
Types of Heart Infections
Several of the most common types of heart infections include endocarditis, which is an infection of the lining of the heart, or of heart valves inside the heart. In most cases, endocarditis is caused by bacteria. Another heart infection, called pericarditis, is an infection of the sac that surrounds and cushions the heart, called the pericardial sac. Most commonly referred to as a membrane, pericarditis causes inflammation of this membrane. Rheumatic fever is another common heart infection, and is an inflammatory disease that will attack tissues of the heart. Left untreated, rheumatic fever may cause permanent damage to heart valves.
Symptoms of heart infections will vary based on type of infection, age of individual and overall general health and stamina. Symptoms of endocarditis commonly include high fever and chills, and in most, extreme weakness and fatigue. Symptoms of pericarditis may include chest pain, most often described as sharp, or a radiating ache throughout the chest, neck and shoulder area. Symptoms of rheumatic fever may include arthritic-type symptoms, and jerking movements, rash and sometimes bumps that can be felt on the bones.
Diagnosing a heart infection often involves blood tests, an echo-cardiogram, which takes a picture of the heart using sound waves. A physician will also assess symptoms and complaints to help diagnose.
Treatment for most heart infections, at least those determined to be bacterial in origin, like endocarditis, are treated with antibiotics for between two to six weeks. Rheumatic fever is often treated by anti-inflammatory medications and sometimes even corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. Pericarditis is often treated depending on the underlying cause.
While heart infections are often beyond our control, we can take steps to safeguard our hearts from some infections. Good dental care and oral hygiene is suggested in order to prevent bacteria from entering the blood stream, especially when periodontal disease is present. Tooth infections should be taken care of immediately. Others diagnosed with certain congenital heart defects or those who will or have undergone heart surgery are often prescribed preventive antibiotics before and after surgical procedures.