To diagnose endocarditis, your GP will look closely at your medical history, paying particular attention to any problems you may have had with your heart.
Taking a medical history also allows your GP to identify whether you've undergone any recent medical procedures that may have put you at risk of developing endocarditis, such as surgery to the heart valves.
Your GP will check for the symptoms of endocarditis, such as fever or nodules (small lumps) on your fingers and toes.
They'll also listen to your heart using a stethoscope to see if you've developed a heart murmur. A heart murmur is where your heartbeat has an extra, or unusual, sound caused by a disturbed blood flow through the heart.
The symptoms of endocarditis are similar to those of other conditions, so it's important that other possible causes are ruled out. Sometimes, you may be referred for further tests.
Blood tests may be used to help diagnose endocarditis, or to help identify the most effective treatment. Blood tests may include:
- a blood culture test – to check for a specific bacteria or fungi
- an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test
- a C reactive protein (CRP) test
ESR and CRP tests can be used to check for inflammation. About 90% of endocarditis patients have an elevated ESR or CRP.
Read more about different types of blood test.
An echocardiogram uses sound waves to scan your heart. The waves can produce accurate images of the heart muscle, chambers and valves. This allows your doctor to examine the structure and function of your heart more closely.
An echocardiogram is often used to check for any clumps of bacteria that may have formed, and can help detect infected or damaged heart tissue.
These scans can be performed by either:
- directly placing a probe on your chest
- swallowing a probe to allow your heart to be studied from inside the gullet (transoesophageal echo)
The transoesophageal echo allows much clearer images of your heart as the gullet is just behind the heart.
Computerised tomography (CT) scan
A computerised tomography (CT) scan uses X-rays to take pictures of the inside of your body. A computer is then used to piece the images together.
A CT scan can be useful for identifying any abscesses (collections of pus) that may have developed in your body.