Photo of human heart model

Complications from diphtheria may include:

  • Blocking of the airway
  • Damage to the heart muscle (myocarditis)
  • Nerve damage (polyneuropathy)
  • Loss of the ability to move (paralysis)
  • Lung infection (respiratory failure or pneumonia)

For some people, diphtheria can lead to death. Even with treatment, about 1 in 10 diphtheria patients die. Without treatment, up to half of patients can die from the disease.

Page last reviewed: December 17, 2018