RHD surgery

For analysis purposes, a surgical event was included regardless of the year of RHD diagnosis, acknowledging that the years for which jurisdictions have been collecting data vary.

Refer to Jurisdictional RHD control programs and registers for more information.

RHD leads to damage to the heart’s valves—the mitral, aortic, pulmonary and tricuspid valves. The damaged valves may need surgery so they can be replaced or repaired. Common surgeries include: balloon valvotomy, used to reopen narrowed valves; valve repair, used to reshape heart valves to allow for normal blood flow; and valve replacement, where the damaged valve is replaced with a mechanical or bioprosthetic valve. Surgery may include prolonged hospitalisation, isolation from family, and ongoing regular monitoring after replacements. An individual may have surgical events more than once on damaged valves, and may have multiple procedures in one surgical event—that is, multiple valves repaired or replaced in a single surgery.

These figures reflect only those surgeries that were reported or recorded in the registers, and may not necessarily include all RHD-related surgery undertaken. However, comparison with data from the National Hospital Morbidity Database suggests that most RHD surgeries among Indigenous Australians in the 4 relevant jurisdictions are recorded on the registers (AIHW unpublished analysis).

In 2015–2019, 370 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people underwent 381 surgical events. Of these individuals:

  • 355 had surgery once, 17 had surgery twice, 1 had three surgeries
  • 201 (54%) were from the Northern Territory
  • 94 (25%) were from Queensland (Figure 11)
  • 248 (67%) were female.

On average, people were diagnosed with RHD 6.9 years before having surgery.

Figure 11: Number and rate of Indigenous Australians who had RHD surgery in 20152019

Diagram of NT (201), Qld (94), WA (60) and SA (15).

*per 100,000 people with RHD.

Note: Data only available for Qld, WA, SA and NT.

Chart: AIHW. Source: AIHW analysis of the National Rheumatic Heart Disease Data Collection, as at 31 December 2019.

Surgery by age

In 2015–2019, of the 381 surgical events among 370 Indigenous Australians, most surgical events occurred among those aged:

  • 25–44, with 166 surgical events (rate of 9,269 per 100,000 population with RHD)
  • 45 and over, with 103 surgical events (8,910 per 100,000).

During the same period, children aged 5–14 with RHD had the highest rate of surgery (12,152 per 100,000 population with RHD; 48 surgical events). No children aged less than 5 years old were known to have had surgery for RHD in this period (Figure 12).

Data visualisation - Figure 12: Surgical events among Indigenous Australians with RHD, by age group and sex, 2015-2019