Abdominal tuberculosis

Indian J Med Res. 2004 Oct;120(4):305-15.


Tuberculosis can involve any part of the gastrointestinal tract and is the sixth most frequent site of extrapulmonary involvement. Both the incidence and severity of abdominal tuberculosis are expected to increase with increasing incidence of HIV infection. Tuberculosis bacteria reach the gastrointestinal tract via haematogenous spread, ingestion of infected sputum, or direct spread from infected contiguous lymph nodes and fallopian tubes. The gross pathology is characterized by transverse ulcers, fibrosis, thickening and stricturing of the bowel wall, enlarged and matted mesenteric lymph nodes, omental thickening, and peritoneal tubercles. Peritoneal tuberculosis occurs in three forms : wet type with ascitis, dry type with adhesions, and fibrotic type with omental thickening and loculated ascites. The most common site of involvement of the gastrointestinal tuberculosis is the ileocaecal region. Ileocaecal and small bowel tuberculosis presents with a palpable mass in the right lower quadrant and/or complications of obstruction, perforation or malabsorption especially in the presence of stricture. Rare clinical presentations include dysphagia, odynophagia and a mid oesophageal ulcer due to oesophageal tuberculosis, dyspepsia and gastric outlet obstruction due to gastroduodenal tuberculosis, lower abdominal pain and haematochezia due to colonic tuberculosis, and annular rectal stricture and multiple perianal fistulae due to rectal and anal involvement. Chest X-rays show evidence of concomitant pulmonary lesions in less than 25 per cent of cases. Useful modalities for investigating a suspected case include small bowel barium meal, barium enema, ultrasonography, computed tomographic scan and colonoscopy. Ascitic fluid examination reveals straw coloured fluid with high protein, serum ascitis albumin gradient less than 1.1 g/dl, predominantly lymphocytic cells, and adenosine deaminase levels above 36 U/l. Laparoscopy is a very useful investigation in doubtful cases. Management is with conventional antitubercular therapy for at least 6 months. The recommended surgical procedures today are conservative and a period of preoperative drug therapy is controversial.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen / diagnostic imaging
  • Abdomen / pathology
  • Ascitic Fluid / pathology
  • Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures
  • Humans
  • Radiography, Abdominal
  • Tuberculosis, Gastrointestinal / diagnosis*
  • Tuberculosis, Gastrointestinal / epidemiology*
  • Tuberculosis, Gastrointestinal / pathology*
  • Tuberculosis, Gastrointestinal / therapy
  • Ultrasonography