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What are Cardiac Infections?

Cardiac infections are serious life-threatening infections that can cause inflammation or damage to your heart's inner lining, muscles, outer membrane, or valves. Infection can be from either bacterial, viral, parasitic, or chemical causes.

Types of Cardiac Infections

The different types of cardiac infections include:

  • Pericarditis: a disease characterized by inflammation of the pericardium, a sac-like membrane surrounding the heart.
  • Endocarditis: a disease characterized by inflammation of the endocardium, the inner lining of the heart.
  • Myocarditis: a disorder characterized by inflammation of the myocardium, or heart muscle.

Causes of Cardiac Infections

Cardiac infections occur when germs from other parts of your body such as your mouth spread through the bloodstream and attach to the damaged areas in your heart. Often the cause remains unknown. The most common causes of heart infection include:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Parasites

Symptoms of Cardiac Infections

Symptoms may develop suddenly or overtime. Symptoms also vary from person to person. Depending upon the type of heart infection, symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Lightheadedness and fainting
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Blood in the urine
  • Red, tender spots under the fingernails
  • Swelling in your legs, abdomen, or feet

Diagnosis of Cardiac Infections

Your doctor diagnoses a cardiac infection, by collecting detailed information about your family's medical history and reviewing your signs and symptoms. Your doctor may also carry out a physical examination, during which the doctor will listen to your heart.

Your doctor may order other tests to confirm the diagnosis which include:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): a painless test that detects and records your heart's rhythm and electrical activity
  • Chest X-ray to check for heart enlargement as well as to assess the condition of your lungs and heart
  • Blood tests to check for evidence of inflammation
  • Echocardiography to check for signs of infection or fluid around the heart, and to assess the size, structure, and movement of the heart
  • MRI or CT scan for detailed pictures of the heart

Treatment of Cardiac Infections

Treatment depends on the underlying cause and may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, to decrease pain and inflammation
  • Steroids, used for severe attacks when traditional treatment does not work
  • Antibiotics, for infection
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as colchicine, if symptoms last for weeks or recur

Surgery is considered if other treatment does not work.