Did you realize that there is virtually no part of your body that is a germ free zone and safe from developing an infection? Not even your heart is immune from the ravages of germs and bacteria. Just like the rest of your body, it is also susceptible to developing an infection.
Endocarditis is an infection of the heart which specifically attacks the heart’s inner lining (endocardium). Since your heart is not exposed externally, the germs or bacteria reach your heart through the bloodstream. The bacteria can enter from such simple and common activities as brushing your teeth (keep your gums in good condition!), a dental procedure that requires your gums to be cut, or body piercing and tattoos. Catheters or contaminated needles may also be a point of entry into the bloodstream along with STDs, skin infections and other sores. Endocarditis may also be caused by a fungal infection that attacks the heart.
Most people who have healthy hearts don’t have to worry about developing endocarditis. However, if your heart isn’t healthy – if you have some type of heart or valve damage – then you are at risk. As with all “bad” things, the germs and bacteria seem to have an uncanny way of knowing exactly what part of your body is weakest. As if guided by an internal here-is-the-weakest-link GPS locator, the bacteria will head straight to the damaged areas of your heart and start attacking. People who have artificial heart valves, or those with congenital heart defects are also more susceptible to the germ/bacterial attack as are IV drug users. Of course, if you’ve already previously had endocarditis, you are at greater risk for developing it again.
As with any other infection, you may or may not get advance warning that you are getting sick. There are a number of symptoms, some of which are fairly common and symptomatic of a number of other illnesses. Other symptoms are more distinctive in nature. More common symptoms may include: fever, chills, fatigue, night sweats, shortness of breath, paleness and aching joints and muscles. You may develop a heart murmur.