Left-Sided Endocarditis vs. Right-Sided Endocarditis

What's the Difference?

Left-sided endocarditis typically affects the mitral or aortic valves and is more commonly seen in patients with underlying heart conditions such as mitral valve prolapse or rheumatic heart disease. It is often caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream and attaching to the damaged valve, leading to symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Right-sided endocarditis, on the other hand, affects the tricuspid valve and is more commonly seen in patients with intravenous drug use or central venous catheters. It is often caused by bacteria entering the bloodstream through these devices and can lead to symptoms such as swelling in the legs, abdominal pain, and a persistent cough. Treatment for both types of endocarditis typically involves antibiotics and, in severe cases, surgery to repair or replace the damaged valve.


AttributeLeft-Sided EndocarditisRight-Sided Endocarditis
LocationValves on the left side of the heart (e.g. mitral or aortic)Valves on the right side of the heart (e.g. tricuspid or pulmonary)
Causative OrganismsCommonly caused by Streptococcus viridans or Staphylococcus aureusCommonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus or coagulase-negative staphylococci
Clinical PresentationMay present with systemic symptoms such as fever, chills, and fatigueMay present with symptoms related to pulmonary emboli or septic emboli
ComplicationsCan lead to embolic events, heart failure, and valve damageCan lead to septic pulmonary emboli and septic shock

Further Detail


Endocarditis is a serious infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves. It can be classified based on the location of the infection, with left-sided endocarditis affecting the left side of the heart and right-sided endocarditis affecting the right side. While both types of endocarditis share some similarities, they also have distinct differences in terms of etiology, clinical presentation, and management.


Left-sided endocarditis is typically caused by bacteria that enter the bloodstream and attach to the damaged or abnormal heart valves on the left side of the heart. Common pathogens responsible for left-sided endocarditis include Streptococcus viridans and Staphylococcus aureus. In contrast, right-sided endocarditis is often associated with intravenous drug use, as the bacteria are introduced directly into the bloodstream through contaminated needles. The most common causative agent for right-sided endocarditis is Staphylococcus aureus.

Clinical Presentation

Patients with left-sided endocarditis often present with symptoms such as fever, chills, fatigue, and new or changing heart murmurs. They may also experience embolic phenomena, such as stroke or peripheral embolism, due to the formation of septic emboli. On the other hand, right-sided endocarditis is characterized by symptoms like fever, night sweats, weight loss, and pulmonary embolism. Patients with right-sided endocarditis may also develop septic pulmonary emboli, leading to symptoms of cough and chest pain.


Left-sided endocarditis is more likely to lead to serious complications such as heart failure, valve destruction, and systemic embolization. The infection can cause significant damage to the heart valves, resulting in regurgitation or stenosis. In severe cases, left-sided endocarditis can lead to septic shock and multi-organ failure. On the other hand, right-sided endocarditis is less likely to cause valve damage or systemic embolization. However, it can lead to complications such as pulmonary abscesses and septic pulmonary emboli.


Diagnosing endocarditis involves a combination of clinical evaluation, blood cultures, echocardiography, and other imaging studies. In left-sided endocarditis, transesophageal echocardiography is often preferred for better visualization of the mitral and aortic valves. Blood cultures are essential for identifying the causative organism and guiding antibiotic therapy. In right-sided endocarditis, transthoracic echocardiography may be sufficient for diagnosing tricuspid valve involvement. Blood cultures are also crucial for confirming the diagnosis and determining the appropriate antibiotic regimen.


The treatment of endocarditis involves a combination of antibiotics and, in some cases, surgical intervention. Antibiotic therapy is tailored to the specific pathogen identified in blood cultures and may require intravenous administration for an extended period. In left-sided endocarditis, surgical intervention may be necessary to repair or replace damaged heart valves. On the other hand, right-sided endocarditis can often be managed with antibiotics alone, without the need for surgical intervention. However, in cases of persistent infection or complications, surgical treatment may be considered.


The prognosis of endocarditis depends on various factors, including the underlying cause, the presence of complications, and the timeliness of treatment. Left-sided endocarditis is associated with a higher mortality rate compared to right-sided endocarditis, primarily due to the increased risk of systemic embolization and valve destruction. Patients with left-sided endocarditis may require more aggressive treatment and closer monitoring to prevent adverse outcomes. On the other hand, right-sided endocarditis generally has a better prognosis, with a lower risk of complications and a higher likelihood of successful treatment with antibiotics alone.

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