Pediatric Bacterial Endocarditis Clinical Presentation

Updated: Jan 16, 2019
  • Author: Michael H Gewitz, MD; Chief Editor: Syamasundar Rao Patnana, MD  more...
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Patients with acute bacterial endocarditis (ABE) present with an acute, toxic, febrile illness and symptoms that have lasted less than 2 weeks. (Between 85% and 99% of patients are febrile.) Often, the heart is structurally normal before ABE onset.

Features in the patient’s history can include fatigue, chills, sweats, anorexia, malaise, cough, headache, myalgia and/or arthralgia, and confusion.

A history of intravenous (IV) drug use may be elicited, as it was in the patient whose chest x-ray is below.

Pediatric Bacterial Endocarditis. A young adult wi Pediatric Bacterial Endocarditis. A young adult with a history of intravenous drug use diagnosed with right-sided staphylococcal endocarditis and multiple embolic pyogenic abscesses on chest radiograph.


Patients with congenital heart disease and fever require special consideration.

Patients with subacute bacterial endocarditis (SBE) present with a more nonspecific, flulike illness and symptoms that may have lasted more than 2 weeks. Subacute bacterial endocarditis is more common in patients with an underlying congenital heart defect. Clinical findings are related to four underlying phenomena, namely, bacteremia (or fungemia), valvulitis, immunologic responses, and/or emboli.


Physical Examination

Physical findings are nonspecific and vary. Factors such as the duration of illness, microbiologic etiology, and patient's age may vary. Thus, the frequency with which different signs and symptoms are manifested is variable. One study that analyzed 76 consecutive cases revealed the following prevalence: fever, 99%; petechiae, 21%; changing murmur, 21%; hepatosplenomegaly, 14%; congestive heart failure, 9%; splenomegaly, 7%; splinter hemorrhages, 5%; retinal hemorrhages (Roth spots), 5%; Osler nodes, 4%; and arthritis, 3%. [8]

As previously mentioned, fever is present in 85-99% of patients with endocarditis. The fever is usually low grade, with a temperature rarely exceeding 39°C that is remittent and is typically not associated with rigors.

A new or changing heart murmur is noted in many patients. These murmurs may be difficult to identify in patients with subacute endocarditis or in infants and young children who may already have a clinically significant murmur secondary to congenital heart disease.

Peripheral signs may be observed, although extracardiac manifestations of endocarditis are less common overall in children than in adults. Petechiae are the most common of these signs (20-40%). They are found on the palpebral conjunctiva, the buccal or palatal mucosa, and the extremities. However, petechiae are not specific for endocarditis.

Splenomegaly is a common finding on abdominal examinations.

Splinter and subungual hemorrhages are dark red, linear streaks in the nail beds of the fingers and toes. Osler nodes are small, tender, subcutaneous nodules that develop in the pulp of the digits.