Surgery is necessary for spinal tuberculosis

What is Spinal Tuberculosis?

Spinal tuberculosis is a rare form of tuberculosis in which the Mycobacterium tuberculosis- Bacterium colonizes the spine, causing damage to the intervertebral discs and subsequent deformation. Archaeological evidence suggests that this disease has been a problem in the human population for thousands of years. It has been documented in a number of ancient human populations, including Egyptian mummies. It was identified and described in the 19th century and a number of treatments exist for people with spinal tuberculosis.

Also known as extrapulmonary tuberculosis, an indication of the fact that tuberculosis usually affects the lungs or Pott's disease, this condition can occur when tuberculosis bacteria spread to the spine via the vasculature in the 19th century. As the bacteria grow, they erode the discs between the vertebrae, causing the vertebrae to collapse. This puts pressure on the spine, which leads to curvature deformity and instability. When multiple vertebrae are involved, the curvature can be severe.

People with spinal tuberculosis have back pain and may develop anorexia and unexplained weight loss, along with a fever from the active infection. Some patients develop neurological problems such as difficulty walking or paralysis in response to damage to the spine. A medical exam should reveal a deformity of the back, and the spine can be further analyzed using medical imaging studies to identify structural deformities and the identifiable signs of damaged discs.

Treatment for spinal tuberculosis begins with anti-tuberculosis drugs that may need to be taken for six months or more. If the deformity is severe, surgery to decompress the spine may be required to prevent injury to the spinal cord. Surgery is usually required less than 10% of the time, especially if patients are treated early. Patients who are unsure about the need for surgery can meet with a surgeon to discuss options.

Spinal tuberculosis is more common in developing countries, where people may not have access to tuberculosis treatment or cannot afford to receive tuberculosis medication. It is also a potential complication of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and can be seen along with tuberculosis of the lungs in populations of AIDS patients around the world. People with AIDS are more likely to develop a variety of infections due to decreased immune functionality, and their lack of immune defense can make them prone to rare complications like spinal tuberculosis.