Tuberculosis (TB) is an infection that usually occurs in the lungs (tuberculosis bacillus); but sometimes it happens in the spine. When it occurs in the spine, it is referred to as Pott's disease, or tuberculosis spondylitis, and the bacteria that causes the infection is Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Since the 1920s, a vaccine and treatment medicine for the disease have been developed. Most people are vaccinated at an early age, and now, only about 5 percent of cases occur in developed countries. According to the Farlex Dictionary, about a third of the world has the bacteria present in their systems, but only 16 million are infected with TB. This is because the immune system can keep the bacteria in check most of the time.
Many symptoms point to spinal tuberculosis, among them back pain, fever, weight loss, loss of appetite, imbalance, clumsiness and sometimes even paralysis. If any of these symptoms present themselves, you should see a doctor immediately.
Tuberculosis spondylitis often causes damage to the spine. It can result in the collapse of vertebrae and fracturing of the bones. Abscesses and tissue formation can narrow the spinal canal, leading to neurological damage.
There are several ways to diagnose spinal tuberculosis. The doctor will test the range of motion in the spine. A series of neurological tests may be conducted, and a complete medical history is necessary to diagnose this disease. Blood tests and X-rays can be used to confirm tuberculosis. Sometimes, magnetic resonance images (MRIs) and bone scans are also necessary.
The course of treatment depends on many factors, such as the age of the patient, severity of the pain and response to other treatments. Along with taking medications specifically for tuberculosis, the patient is often ordered to rest, take vitamin supplements and limit physical activity. Spinal exercises are often used as part of the recovery, and sometimes a back brace is necessary. Surgery may be needed if the damage is severe enough. This is usually a last resort and is not necessary for most patients.
In the past 20 years, the number of tuberculosis cases found in the United States has increased, mainly in inner cities. The increase is linked to poverty and the prevalence of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). A person who is positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is more likely to contract tuberculosis because the deficient immune system cannot contain the bacteria as would the immune system of a healthy person. Tuberculosis is often the cause of death among HIV-positive people.