In serious cases, a tuberculosis infection can spread beyond the lungs to other parts of the body. One example of this is an infection of the bones and joints, which most often occurs in the spine and is often referred to as Pott disease or tuberculous arthritis. While much of the treatment of Pott disease is similar to the treatment for standard tuberculosis, there are some unique complications that can result and require special treatment.
Because of its location in a different part of the body, Pott disease can cause some symptoms that are different from those caused by standard tuberculosis. Like pulmonary tuberculosis patents, sufferers usually experience fever, chills, night sweats, appetite loss, weight loss, pallor and fatigue. In addition, people with Pott disease experience back pain, muscle spasms, joint swelling and the formation of spinal masses that can cause numbness or weakness of the legs. Unlike people with pulmonary tuberculosis, however, patients with Pott disease may not cough up blood, which is probably the most recognizable symptom of tuberculosis.
In very serious cases, people with Pott disease may experience life-threatening complications such as a collapse of the vertebrae, spinal cord compression and eventually paralysis of the legs. Because of the potentially severe consequences, someone with Pott disease should consult a health-care professional at once.
Like most cases of tuberculosis, the main treatment for Pott disease is a cocktail of powerful antibiotics that kill the tuberculosis bacteria. Chemical regimens should last from six to nine months or longer depending on how the patent reacts to the drugs, and should be strictly followed by the patent. Tuberculosis bacteria are very good at adapting to drugs, so failing to follow the prescription exactly can cause drugs to become less effective in the future. In addition, patients may be given painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs to counteract any swelling of the spine that the disease causes. The application of heat or cold to infected joints may also help to relieve the intense joint pain that often accompanies this disease.
In some cases surgery may be necessary to stabilize the spine or drain any spinal abscesses that form because of the disease. Traditionally, external spinal braces were used to stabilize the spine, but the effectiveness of these measures is unclear. In advanced cases, in which the spine has begun to collapse, it may be necessary to insert a rod to immobilize the spine. Bone tuberculosis infections that develop in other parts of the body (which are rarer) are treated in much the same way.