Intestinal tuberculosis: return of an old disease

Am J Gastroenterol. 1998 May;93(5):692-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.1998.207_a.x.


Objective: Tuberculosis (TB) can no longer be considered a rare disease in the United States due, in part, to the AIDS epidemic. Because the signs and symptoms of intestinal TB are nonspecific, a high index of suspicion must be maintained to ensure a timely diagnosis. The aim of this article is to review the history, epidemiology, pathophysiology, and treatment of TB.

Methods: This review is based on an examination of the world literature.

Results: In only 20% of TB patients is there associated active pulmonary TB. Areas most commonly affected are the jejunoileum and ileocecum, which comprise >75% of gastrointestinal TB sites. Diagnosis requires colonoscopy with multiple biopsies at the ulcer margins and tissue sent for routine histology, smear, and culture. If intestinal TB is suspected, empiric treatment is warranted despite negative histology, smear, and culture results. Treatment is medical, and all patients should receive a full course of antituberculous chemotherapy. Exploratory laparotomy is necessary if the diagnosis is in doubt, in cases in which there is concern about a neoplasm, or for complications that include perforation, obstruction, hemorrhage, or fistulization.

Conclusions: This review draws attention to the resurgence of tuberculosis in the United States. An increased awareness of intestinal tuberculosis, coupled with knowledge of the pathophysiology, diagnostic methods, and treatment should increase the number of cases diagnosed, thus improving the outcome for patients with this disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / diagnosis
  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / therapy
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Intestinal Diseases* / physiopathology
  • Intestinal Diseases* / therapy
  • Tuberculosis, Gastrointestinal* / diagnosis
  • Tuberculosis, Gastrointestinal* / physiopathology
  • Tuberculosis, Gastrointestinal* / therapy