What is Intestinal Tuberculosis?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 12 February 2019
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Intestinal tuberculosis or colonic tuberculosis is a colon infection caused by the same bacteria that spreads the more common form of the disease, known simply as tuberculosis. This airborne bacterium, mycobacterium tuberculosis, typically infects the lungs, but it can affect any organ, including the lymph nodes and brain. The symptoms of this type of tuberculosis, if there are any, are often vague and include fatigue, weight loss, and diarrhea, as well as intermittent fevers and sweats, gastrointestinal bleeding, and pain and discomfort. The condition can also mimic other intestinal diseases, such as Crohn’s disease.

This form of tuberculosis is much more common in developing countries and the African and Asian continents. Some patients may not experience any symptoms other than abdominal swelling. The swelling is typically thought to be cancer or a symptom of Crohn’s disease. Intestinal tuberculosis is often not diagnosed until many other similar conditions are ruled out.

There are several ways of diagnosing intestinal tuberculosis. A doctor may order an X-ray or CT scan of the abdomen. A colonoscopy may be performed in order to confirm a diagnosis. A serological test can also be helpful in the diagnosis of viral and infectious diseases.


Intestinal tuberculosis is commonly treated just like the pulmonary form of the disease. A patient will take a regimen of at least two different oral antibacterial medications for at least six months. Two different medications are given in order to reduce the likelihood that the bacteria will be resistant to the treatment.

This disease is caused by bacteria that grow very slowly in the human body. As a result, a long course of antibiotics is necessary to fully eliminate the infection. Patients should complete the full course of their medications even if they begin to feel better.

Patients who suffer from chronic unexplained abdominal or gastrointestinal symptoms are candidates for colonic tuberculosis. This is particularly true if the patient lives in an area where the incidence is already high. In some cases, there will be lesions present in the colon that are the source of the patient’s pain.

The spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in developing countries has been tied to the increased incidence of intestinal tuberculosis. Most patients will have symptoms of colonic tuberculosis over several years. The disease will manifest itself in the form of an acute attack of symptoms that subsides only to return when the patient’s immune system is weak.

The bacteria that cause tuberculosis spread through the air when a person breaths air that has been contaminated by the cough of an infected individual. In developed countries, the disease tends to be more common in the elderly, but in developing countries more young people are afflicted with it. Tuberculosis can remain dormant and may never progress to the stage of an active infection in some individuals.


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