Objective: To describe the demographic characteristics, everyday habits, socio-economic conditions, clinico-epidemiological profiles and access to health care services among the elderly patients with tuberculosis diagnosed and treated in the city of Recife, Brazil, comparing them to those observed in young adults with tuberculosis.
Methods: A case-control type strategy was used to evaluate a cohort of patients with tuberculosis, all of whom were treated in public health care facilities in Recife between May of 2001 and July of 2003.
Results: The final cohort consisted of 1127 patients: 136 elderly patients (cases) and 991 young adults (controls). In both groups, males predominated, and the most common form of tuberculosis was the pulmonary form. Alcoholism was more common in the control group, whereas illiteracy was more common in the case group. There were fewer complaints of cough, sweats and chest pain among the patients in the case group than among those in the control group. Serological testing for the human immunodeficiency virus was performed in only 29 patients (2.6%). The percentage of positive sputum smear microscopy results, as well as that of positive cultures, was higher in the controls. Prior to being diagnosed with the disease, patients in both groups had sought treatment at more than two health care facilities and had waited more than two months (after first seeking treatment). The elderly patients presented higher indices of cure and were more often compliant with the treatment regimen, yet presented higher mortality rates.
Conclusion: In the population studied, the elderly presented less cough, fewer episodes of night sweats and less chest pain, as well as less often presenting positivity on complementary exams. Nevertheless, the mortality rate was higher among the elderly patients than among the young adult patients. Elderly patients with tuberculosis constitute a population that should be given special attention in public health care facilities.