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Neurosurgery. 1995 Jan;36(1):87-97; discussion 97-8.

Modern management of spinal tuberculosis.

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  • 1Department of Neurosurgery, New York University Medical Center, New York.


The resurgence of pulmonary tuberculosis in the United States has been paralleled by a concomitant rise in tuberculosis of the spine (Pott's disease). The appearance of drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis, infection in large numbers of immunocompromised hosts, newer imaging modalities, and the development of more effective spinal reconstruction techniques have raised important issues regarding the management of Pott's disease. In spite of this, there has been little published recently on the modern management of Pott's disease in developed countries. We report our experience with the management of 20 patients with Pott's disease in the past 5 years, 16 of whom were admitted during the last 18 months of this retrospective study. The mean patient age was 49 years. Sixteen (80%) were men. Nineteen (95%) had a positive tuberculin skin test, and 13 (65%) had pulmonary tuberculosis. Symptoms consisted of spinal pain, weakness, sensory complaints, and flank mass in order of decreasing frequency. Ten patients were neurologically intact; the remainder had motor deficits of variable severity. The thoracic spine was involved in 13 patients, the lumbar spine was involved in 4, the cervical spine was involved in 2, and the thoracolumbar spine was involved in 1. Spinal deformity was present in 11 patients, spinal epidural compression was present in 13, and a paraspinal mass was present in 18. Operative indications included motor deficits, spinal deformity, nondiagnostic computer tomographic-guided needle biopsy, and noncompliance with, or lack of, response to medical therapy. Eleven patients underwent operations. Six patients had vertebrectomy and bone grafting with posterior instrumentation when indicated; three had laminectomy, debridement, and abscess drainage; one had laminectomy and posterior instrumentation; and one had paraspinal abscess drainage. Two patients have died; the remainder have been monitored for at least 1 year and are neurologically improved or normal without residual infection. The average angulation decreased from 31 to 24 degrees by the follow-up examination. In selected patients, early operative treatment with instrumentation, when indicated, minimizes neurological deterioration and spinal deformity, allows early ambulation, and results in excellent neurological outcome.

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