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Diphtheria Complications: Unveiling the Potential Risks

Toxin-producing Corynebacterium diphtheriae strains are the cause of the bacterial disease diphtheria.

Read on Diphtheria outbreak in Nigeria

It can lead to various complications, some of which can be severe and life-threatening.

Here are six major complications associated with diphtheria:

  1. Airway Obstruction: Diphtheria can cause the formation of a pseudomembrane in the respiratory tract, particularly in the pharynx and tonsils. This membrane can obstruct the airway, leading to difficulty in breathing and potentially requiring emergency intervention [1].
  2. Myocarditis: Myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle, is one of the most frequent complications of diphtheria. The diphtheria toxin can affect the heart, leading to abnormal cardiac rhythms and heart failure. Myocarditis can occur early in the course of the illness or weeks later and can be fatal [1].
  3. Neuritis: Diphtheria can also cause neuritis, which is inflammation of the nerves. Motor nerves are most commonly affected, and paralysis of the soft palate is a common manifestation during the third week of illness. Paralysis of eye muscles, limbs, and the diaphragm can occur later. Most cases of neuritis resolve completely, but it can cause significant disability [1].
  4. Otitis Media: Diphtheria can lead to otitis media, which is a middle ear infection. This can cause pain, hearing loss, and other complications related to the ear [2].
  5. Respiratory Insufficiency: In infants, diphtheria can cause respiratory insufficiency due to airway obstruction. This can lead to difficulty in breathing and may require immediate medical attention [1].
  6. Secondary Pneumonia: Diphtheria can also increase the risk of secondary pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs. This can further complicate the respiratory symptoms and increase the severity of the illness [1].

It is important to note that diphtheria can be a life-threatening disease, and even with treatment, about 1 in 10 patients with respiratory diphtheria may die. Without treatment, up to half of patients can die from the disease [2].


Learn more:

  1. Clinical Information – CDC
  2. Diagnosis, Treatment, and Complications | CDC
  3. Diphtheria – Symptoms & causes – Mayo Clinic

These complications can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention 1 . Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are crucial to prevent or minimize these complications 2 . It is important to raise awareness about the potential risks of diphtheria and encourage timely medical intervention 1 2 .

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