Heart infections occur when an irritant such as bacteria, a virus, a parasite, or a chemical reaches your heart muscle. An infection can cause inflammation or damage to your heart’s inner lining, valves, outer membrane, or the heart muscle itself.
Types of Heart Infection
Your heart has three main layers, any of which can be the site of a heart infection. The types of heart infection include:
Endocarditis is an infection or inflammation of the endocardium. This is the inner most layer of the heart. The endocardium lines the inside of the four heart chambers and the four heart valves. Endocarditis is the most common type of heart infection. It most often occurs in people with pre-existing valve disease and other heart problems. Treatment usually requires hospitalization.
Myocarditis is an infection or inflammation of the myocardium. This is the middle muscular layer of the heart. Viral infections are one of several causes of myocarditis. This type of heart infection is rare.
Pericarditis is an infection or inflammation of the pericardium. This is the outer layer or membrane covering the heart. A viral infection is the most common cause. It occurs most often in men age 20 to 50 years from a viral infection. Typically, people recover with rest and treatment of symptoms.
General symptoms of a heart infection include chest pain, fever, and shortness of breath. These symptoms can also be present with a life-threatening condition, such as heart attack. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, have these symptoms.
Causes of Heart Infection
Pericarditis can be caused by a viral infection or after a heart attack or heart surgery. It can also develop as the result of inflammatory autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis; trauma to the heart or chest; health disorders like kidney failure or AIDS; and certain medications, although this is unusual.
Endocarditis usually occurs when germs travel through your bloodstream, travel to your heart, and attach to damaged heart tissue. Bacteria can spread as the result of unhealthy teeth and gums, a skin sore, certain dental procedures, a sexually transmitted infection, or a catheter or needle.
Myocarditis is generally caused by a viral infection or autoimmune disease. Because the condition is so unusual, research is still being done on its causes.
What are the symptoms of a heart infection?
Heart infection symptoms with endocarditis can be obvious and develop quickly. This is acute endocarditis, which can rapidly become serious and life threatening. However, they can also be vague and develop gradually, even over months. This is subacute or chronic endocarditis.
Common symptoms of a heart infection
The most common symptoms of endocarditis are:
- Chest pain, especially with breathing
- Fever, chills, and sweats
- General feeling of being unwell
- Muscle aches
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling in the abdomen or lower extremities
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
In some cases, a heart infection can cause life-threatening complications. Seek immediate medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
- Chest pain
- Confusion, disorientation or difficulty understanding speech
- Drooping on one side of the face
- Severe headache
- Slurred or garbled speech, or inability to speak
- Sudden vision changes
- Sudden weakness, numbnessor paralysis on one side of the body or face
Even if you do not have these potentially life-threatening symptoms, it is wise to seek medical care for any symptoms of heart infection.
Treatment of a heart infection
Heart infections are generally treated with one or more of the following methods:
- Medications used to treat heart failure.
- Drugs that reduce inflammation in the body.
- Occasionally, surgery.