Types of TB

Tuberculosis (TB) is divided into two categories: pulmonary and extrapulmonary.

Pulmonary Tuberculosis Types

Primary Tuberculosis Pneumonia

This uncommon type of TB presents as pneumonia and is very infectious. Patients have a high fever and productive cough. It occurs most often in extremely young children and the elderly. It is also seen in patients with immunosuppression, such as HIV-infected and AIDS patients, and in patients on long term corticosteroid therapy.

Tuberculosis Pleurisy

This usually develops soon after initial infection. A granuloma located at the edge of the lung ruptures into the pleural space, the space between the lungs and the chest wall. Usually, a couple of tablespoons of fluid can be found in the pleural space. Once the bacteria invade the space, the amount of fluid increases dramatically and compresses the lung, causing shortness of breath (dyspnea) and sharp chest pain that worsens with a deep breath (pleurisy). A chest x-ray shows significant amounts of fluid. Mild- or low-grade fever commonly is present. Tuberculosis pleurisy generally resolves without treatment; however, two-thirds of patients with tuberculosis pleurisy develop active pulmonary TB within 5 years.

Cavitary TB

Cavitary TB involves the upper lobes of the lung. The bacteria cause progressive lung destruction by forming cavities, or enlarged air spaces. This type of TB occurs in reactivation disease. The upper lobes of the lung are affected because they are highly oxygenated (an environment in which M. tuberculosis thrives). Cavitary TB can, rarely, occur soon after primary infection.

Symptoms include productive cough, night sweats, fever, weight loss, and weakness. There may be hemoptysis (coughing up blood). Patients with cavitary TB are highly contagious. Occasionally, disease spreads into the pleural space and causes TB empyema (pus in the pleural fluid).

Miliary TB

Miliary TB is disseminated TB. "Miliary" describes the appearance on chest x-ray of very small nodules throughout the lungs that look like millet seeds. Miliary TB can occur shortly after primary infection. The patient becomes acutely ill with high fever and is in danger of dying. The disease also may lead to chronic illness and slow decline.

Symptoms may include fever, night sweats, and weight loss. It can be difficult to diagnose because the initial chest x-ray may be normal. Patients who are immunosuppressed and children who have been exposed to the bacteria are at high risk for developing miliary TB.

Laryngeal TB

TB can infect the larynx, or the vocal chord area. It is extremely infectious.

Extrapulmonary Tuberculosis

This type of tuberculosis occurs primarily in immunocompromised patients.

Lymph Node Disease

Lymph nodes contain macrophages that capture the bacteria. Any lymph node can harbor uncontrolled replication of bacteria, causing the lymph node to become enlarged. The infection can develop a fistula (passageway) from the lymph node to the skin.

Tuberculosis Peritonitis

M. tuberculosis can involve the outer linings of the intestines and the linings inside the abdominal wall, producing increased fluid, as in tuberculosis pleuritis. Increased fluid leads to abdominal distention and pain. Patients are moderately ill and have fever.

Tuberculosis Pericarditis

The membrane surrounding the heart (the pericardium) is affected in this condition. This causes the space between the pericardium and the heart to fill with fluid, impeding the heart's ability to fill with blood and beat efficiently.

Osteal Tuberculosis

Infection of any bone can occur, but one of the most common sites is the spine. Spinal infection can lead to compression fractures and deformity of the back.

Renal Tuberculosis

This can cause asymptomatic pyuria (white blood cells in the urine) and can spread to the reproductive organs and affect reproduction. In men, epididymitis (inflammation of the epididymis) may occur.

Adrenal Tuberculosis

TB of the adrenal glands can lead to adrenal insufficiency. Adrenal insufficiency is the inability to increase steroid production in times of stress, causing weakness and collapse.

TB Meningitis

M. tuberculosis can infect the meninges (the main membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord). This can be devastating, leading to permanent impairment and death. TB can be difficult to discern from a brain tumor because it may present as a focal mass in the brain with focal neurological signs.

Headache, sleepiness, and coma are typical symptoms. The patient may appear to have had a stroke.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 01 Jun 2000

Last Modified: 22 Oct 2012