Setting: The present study is based on 1500 autopsies done in the Institute of Tuberculosis and Chest Diseases Warsaw, Poland during the years 1972-81 and 1982-91.
Objective: To assess the correctness of tuberculosis diagnosis before death in the above mentioned time periods.
Design: The autopsy reports were examined for the diagnosis of active tuberculosis proved by microscopy. The form and localisation of tuberculosis was assessed. The postmortem diagnosis was compared with clinical diagnosis. In those cases in which tuberculosis was not recognised before death the possible causes of this failure were analyzed.
Results: Active tuberculosis was found in 119 cases, 7.9% of all autopsies. It was localised in the lungs exclusively in 72 cases, in lungs and in extrapulmonary sites in 45 and in extrapulmonary sites only in 2. The frequency of active tuberculosis was the same for the two periods under evaluation. Tuberculosis was however not recognised before death in a much higher proportion of cases in 1982-92 (54%) than in 1972-81 (24%). The main cause of diagnostic failure was connected with atypical localisation of lesions on chest X-ray and with dissemination outside the lungs. Previous tuberculosis was a factor which facilitated the diagnosis of tuberculosis.
Conclusions: In parallel with the decline of tuberculosis incidence in Poland, many doctors lack experience in diagnosing this disease, especially in cases with atypical X-ray presentation and with extrapulmonary localisation. This may lead to late or even very late diagnosis and have a significant impact on the epidemiological situation.