Diphtheria is a bacterial infection caused by Corynebacterium diphteriae which is a Gram-positive bacterium. The symptoms of the disease are presented with slightly increased body temperature, sore throat and specific pseudo membranous structures on the tonsils. Diphtheria can be cured and even prevented with specific vaccine. Majority of people are protected by vaccination. Still in some people there are possible complications. They vary in intensity and can range from mild to life-threatening. The complications of diphtheria are a consequence of infection or can be a result of bacterial toxin. They can affect all the people who catch the infection.
All complications can be classified into several groups. They include cardiac complications, neuritis, problems with swallowing and breathing difficulties, pneumonia, and kidney failure. Even lethal outcome is possible.
Myocarditis is one of the complications of the disease. This inflammation of heart muscle leads to improper functioning and irregular heart beat. Heart failure can be so severe that it leads to death. The bacterial toxin is responsible for inflammation of heart muscle. Myocarditis is mainly treated with beta-blockers. These medications tend to increase the strength of heart muscle and bring irregular heart beats under control.
Neuritis or inflammation of nerves is additional complication of this severe disease. Each and every nerve of the body can be affected. This results in variety of paralysis. Certainly the most affected are muscles of the roof of the mouth and those in charge with movements of eyes. Muscles of extremities can get affected as well. The most severe situation occurs if diaphragm is affected as the arrest of its function may lead to extreme breathing difficulties. Paralysis of soft palate interferes in swallowing and breathing. One can choke. Even aspiration of food is possible. Aspiration can lead to pneumonia. In most severe cases the airway can be entirely blocked with pseudo membranes and this results in possible suffocation. Problems with breathing can result from pneumonia or even from the direct impact of toxin onto the lung tissue. In case the respiratory failure occurs a patient needs a ventilator to support breathing.
In some patients kidneys can stop working. Renal failure happens as a result of direct influence of Corinebacterium toxin or it can develop as a consequence of heart failure. No matter what the cause is kidney failure presents one significant complication of this contagious disease.
Each of the previously mentioned complication of diphtheria can lead to death. But if treated properly and on time the lethal outcome can be evaded.