Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Endocarditis

4-minute read

What is endocarditis?

Endocarditis is a rare but serious condition caused by infection of the inner lining of the heart. With prompt diagnosis and treatment, most people can recover, but the condition can be fatal.

What are the symptoms of endocarditis?

Endocarditis symptoms can develop over a few days or several weeks. Symptoms include:

  • a high temperature (fever), chills and night sweats
  • muscle aches and pains
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • headaches
  • chest pain
  • blood spots in the eyes
  • bleeding under the fingernails or toenails
  • painless red spots on the palms
  • painful lumps on the fingertips or toes
  • low blood pressure and dizziness
  • extreme tiredness and weight loss
  • swelling in the feet or ankles

If you develop any of these symptoms, especially if you are at high risk, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. Although many of the symptoms also have other causes, endocarditis must be diagnosed and treated rapidly. About 1 in 3 people who develop endocarditis die within a year. Early diagnosis makes effective treatment much easier.

What causes endocarditis?

Endocarditis is usually caused by a bacterial infection. It is also called infective endocarditis or bacterial endocarditis.

Bacteria can reach the heart:

  • through the mouth after a dental procedure or after regular brushing and flossing
  • after surgery or other medical procedures
  • through the skin, digestive system or urinary tract

Bacteria in the bloodstream are more likely to infect a heart that already has some damage. This might have been present at birth (congenital) or caused by disease.

The following also increase the risk of developing endocarditis:

  • surgery or other procedures in a hospital or clinic
  • a problem with the valves in the heart
  • an artificial heart or a pacemaker
  • problems with the teeth and gums
  • illicit drug or medicine misuse by injection
  • an immune system that doesn't work as well as it should

When should I see my doctor?

If you are at risk of endocarditis, you should talk to your doctor for more information about prevention.

If you develop any of the above symptoms, especially if you are at high risk, you should see your doctor as soon as possible or go to the nearest emergency department.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — Our Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is endocarditis diagnosed?

Your doctor will consider your medical history and physical symptoms, and will examine you. You are likely to have:

  • an electrocardiogram (ECG) to see how well your heart is working
  • multiple blood tests to check on the health of your organs and to look for signs of infection
  • a chest x-ray
  • an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of your heart

You might also have other imaging tests such as a PET scan.

How is endocarditis treated?

Endocarditis is a serious and complex condition. If diagnosed, you will need to be treated in hospital, at least initially, and might be in an intensive care unit. You might see a range of doctors, including a cardiologist, a microbiologist, an infectious diseases specialist and a surgeon.

The main treatment for endocarditis is antibiotics, initially through an intravenous (IV) drip. You will have repeated blood tests, x-rays and other imaging tests to monitor your progress. Some people with endocarditis need surgery to remove infected tissue and to rebuild or replace damaged heart valves.

Endocarditis can come back, so your health will be monitored for the following year or so. You’ll learn how to reduce the chance of reinfection and how to recognise it if it occurs.

Can endocarditis be prevented?

Measures to help prevent endocarditis include:

  • observing good hygiene practices in hospitals and health clinics
  • observing good dental hygiene to reduce the risk of bacteria entering through the mouth
  • for people at high risk of endocarditis, having preventative antibiotics before invasive dental procedures

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Infective endocarditis fact sheet | Children’s Health Queensland

Children's health information fact sheet about infective endocarditis.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Heart conditions - endocarditis - Better Health Channel

Endocarditis is an infection of the heart valves or the inner lining of the heart.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Heart Valve Disease - St Vincent's Heart Health

Learn more about heart valve disease, the causes, symptoms, possible tests and treatments.

Read more on St Vincent's Hospital Heart Health website

Heart murmur - Better Health Channel

Many children have innocent heart murmurs that don?t require any treatment, but medical tests are often needed to check.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Cardiovascular Disease - Lab Tests Online AU

Cardiovascular Disease is a general term to describe those disorders that affect the heart or the vascular system.

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Heart murmurs: symptoms, risk factors and treatments - myDr.com.au

Heart murmurs are heard between heartbeats if the blood flow through the heart becomes turbulent.

Read more on myDr website

Congenital heart defects - myDr.com.au

Congenital heart defects are problems with the structure of the heart that are present from birth. The defects develop during pregnancy. In Australia, as many as one baby in 100 is born with a heart defect.

Read more on myDr website

Heart abnormality birth defects - Better Health Channel

Some congenital heart defects are mild and cause no significant disturbance to the way the heart functions.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo