Synonyms: Bacterial endocarditis, Infective endocarditis

Medical Specialties: Cardiology, Family practice, Internal medicine

Clinical Definition

Endocarditis is an inflammation of the heart valves or the endocardium, most commonly caused by a bacterial infection. It occurs when organisms (usually bacteria, but rarely fungi) enter the bloodstream and then reach the endocardium or the valves. Without proper treatment, endocarditis can be fatal.

In Our Own Words

Endocarditis occurs when the endocardium (i.e., inner lining of the heart) or one of the heart valves becomes infected. Before antibiotics, bacterial endocarditis was almost always fatal, but now proper treatment has greatly increased survival rate.


In endocarditis, bacteria enter the blood stream and travel to the heart, where they grow and damage its lining and valves, potentially causing the scarring of valve tissue. Though the infection is relatively uncommon, risk factors include being male, being over 60 years of age, having artificial heart valves, certain congenital heart diseases, certain valve problems and injection drug use.


Antibiotics can treat the bacterial infection, and surgery may be needed if heart valve damage has occurred. Once symptoms of infection occur (e.g., muscle ache, joint pain, night sweats, shortness of breath, etc.), prompt medical attention is crucial to prevent heart damage.

Relevant Conditions
Side Effects
  • Shortness of breath
  • Night sweats
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Muscle and joint aches
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  • Harvard Health Publications. "Medical Dictionary of Health Terms." http://www.health.harvard.edu. Accessed August 2013.
  • American Heart Association. "Infective Endocarditis." Updated April 2013. http://www.heart.org. Accessed August 2013.
  • The Cleveland Clinic. "Infective Endocarditis." http://my.clevelandclinic.org. Accessed August 2013.
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