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DNA India
25 March 2011
Bangalore, India

Of the 30 million people who suffer from tuberculosis all over the world, India accounts for one third of it. Nearly 1.5 lakh people in India suffer from tuberculosis of the spine.

Although the disease mostly affects the lungs, tuberculosis of the spine is equally a cause for concern, having disastrous and often irreversible complications, said experts at a press meet on Thursday, organised by the Association of Spine Surgeons of India (ASSI). Tuberculosis of the spine is referred to as Pott’s disease, or tuberculosis spondylitis.

"The symptoms are back pain, low fever, a hump in the back and, in worst cases, paralysis of the limbs. The tuberculosis bacteria invade the vertebrae and induce destruction of the bones of the spine, resulting in pus formation and instability of the spine and appearance of a deformity of the back," said Dr Mahesh Bijjawara, consultant spine surgeon, Bhagwan Mahaveer Jain Hospital.

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. In advanced untreated cases, this can lead to compression of the spinal cord resulting in complete paralysis of both legs and rarely, upper limbs.

"Once the patient reaches the stage of paralysis, even with good surgical treatment, the recovery from paralysis may not always be possible," added Dr Bijjawara.

Diagnosis can be done with a series of neurological tests. Blood tests and X-rays can be used to confirm tuberculosis.

Sometimes, magnetic resonance images (MRIs) and bone scans are also necessary. "Patients who have developed a deformity or weakness will need surgical treatment for correction of the deformity. Surgery for tuberculosis of spine is complex and carries the risk of complications," said Dr Bijjawara.

"Now, we have very effective drugs against tuberculosis and the disease can be completely cured with early detection and prompt appropriate treatment," he added.

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