Conditions We Treat: Heart Infections

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

Here are three primary types of heart infection:

  • Pericarditis, swelling and irritation of the pericardium, the thin sac-like membrane that surrounds your heart. It usually begins suddenly but doesn't last long. Most cases are mild and improve on their own, but medication or surgery might be necessary in more severe cases.
  • Endocarditis, an infection of the heart's valves or inner lining. This type of infection can damage your heart and should be treated right away so that it doesn't become deadly. Most people who develop endocarditis have damaged heart valves or other heart defects.
  • Myocarditis, a rare disease marked by inflammation and damage of the heart muscle caused by a viral infection or an autoimmune response. It tends to affect otherwise healthy people, and long-term effects vary from fast recovery to heart failure.

Causes

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.

Symptoms

Depending on the type of heart infection, symptoms can include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Fatigue.
  • Lightheadedness and fainting.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Chest pain or pressure.
  • Fever.
  • Abdominal or leg swelling.
  • Aching joints or muscles.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Red, tender spots under the fingernails.
  • Tiny purple or red spots on the skin, whites of the eyes, or inside the mouth.

Treatment

Heart infections are generally treated with one or more of the following methods:

  • Antibiotics.
  • Medications used to treat heart failure.
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Drugs that reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Occasionally, surgery.