Leprosy disease causes a lot of damage as it progresses. So, when it is not treated or treatment is started in the late stages of the disease, then different problems arise.
If leprosy is left untreated, the disease process continues to progress causing more grievous damage. Unfortunately, the damage that is caused is permanent. And so, the eyes, nose, skin, arms, nerves, male reproductive organs, kidneys, legs and feet suffer permanent damage. These damages are referred to as the complications of untreated leprosy.
About 2 million people have permanent disabilities due to leprosy.
Some things that happen when leprosy is left untreated include:
- Eyes – The iris of the eyes gets inflamed (iritis); glaucoma; blindness.
- Nose – Nosebleeds and long-lasting stuffy nose that is persistent and long lasting. These occur due to permanent damage to the lining of the inside of the nose. The septum of the nose can collapse.
- Permanently disfigured face by permanent lumps, swellings or bumps.
- Nerve damage – There is permanent damage to the peripheral nerves (that is, the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord) in the arms, legs and feet. This causes loss of feeling or sensation (that is, numbness) which is dangerous because the person could get burned, injured or cut and not even realise it which could result in other complications.
- Nerve damage also leads to muscle weakness which results in claw-like hands.
- Male reproductive organs – Male infertility (sterility) and erectile dysfunction.
- Kidneys – Kidney failure.
- Feet – There is inability to flex the feet because of muscle weakness.
These complications occur when leprosy is not diagnosed early and/or when treatment is not started early. Thus, resulting in the disease progressing and causing more irreversible damage. However, if leprosy is detected early in the disease process then it can be treated before these complications arise or get too bad. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, leprosy is not usually diagnosed in its early stages; it is diagnosed when damage has set in.
And so, it is better to prevent the disease altogether.