Background: We investigated adverse outcomes for people with acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) and the effect of comorbidities and demographic factors on these outcomes.
Methods: Using linked data (RHD register, hospital, and mortality data) for residents of the Northern Territory of Australia, we calculated ARF recurrence rates, rates of progression from ARF to RHD to severe RHD, RHD complication rates (heart failure, endocarditis, stroke, and atrial fibrillation), and mortality rates for 572 individuals diagnosed with ARF and 1248 with RHD in 1997 to 2013 (94.9% Indigenous).
Results: ARF recurrence was highest (incidence, 3.7 per 100 personyears) in the first year after the initial ARF episode, but low-level risk persisted for >10 years. Progression to RHD was also highest (incidence, 35.9) in the first year, almost 10 times higher than ARF recurrence. The median age at RHD diagnosis in Indigenous people was young, especially among males (17 years). The development of complications was highest in the first year after RHD diagnosis: heart failure incidence rate per 100 person-years, 9.09; atrial fibrillation, 4.70; endocarditis, 1.00; and stroke, 0.58. Mortality was higher among Indigenous than non-Indigenous RHD patients (hazard ratio, 6.55; 95% confidence interval, 2.45–17.51), of which 28% was explained by comorbid renal failure and hazardous alcohol use. RHD complications and mortality rates were higher for urban than for remote residents.
Conclusions: This study provides important new prognostic information for ARF/RHD. The residual Indigenous survival disparity in RHD patients, which persisted after accounting for comorbidities, suggests that other factors contribute to mortality, warranting further research.