Disseminated Tuberculosis

What is disseminated tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a contagious disease caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. When this infection spreads from the lungs and affects other organs, it is called disseminated (widespread) tuberculosis. Symptoms depend upon the organ systems affected by the disease, but common symptoms include fever, chills, night sweats, weight loss and tiredness. The diagnosis involves taking a sample from the infected organ to prove the presence of an infection. The treatment of disseminated tuberculosis usually involves taking a combination of antibiotics for 6 to 12 months. Most people recover well, although it does take time for the symptoms to improve.


Tuberculosis is very infectious.The bacteria that causes tuberculosis, is spread through the air and via droplets from the mouth or throat of an infected person. Tuberculosis usually causes an infection in the lungs, but it can also spread through the blood and infect other parts of the body. When this occurs, it is called disseminated (widespread) tuberculosis. Common locations for this to occur include the spine, intestines and kidneys. People who live in areas where there is not good access to health care, who are not well nourished and who live in crowded conditions are at an increased risk of getting tuberculosis. People with a weakened immune system are also at a higher risk of developing tuberculosis, especially people with HIV. Infants and older people also have an increased risk of developing tuberculosis.


Symptoms depend upon the organ system infected with the bacteria. Common general symptoms of tuberculosis include fever and chills, night sweats, feeling generally unwell, joint pain, weight loss, tiredness, pale skin, swollen lymph nodes, a cough and shortness of breath. Other symptoms may include bone pain, diarrhea, abdominal pain and swelling, or blood in the urine.


The diagnosis of disseminated (widespread) tuberculosis can be difficult. Although the diagnosis may be suspected based on the symptoms in a person who is at risk of tuberculosis, it can only be confirmed with tests to confirm a tuberculosis infection. Often several tests are needed. These may include X-rays or scans looking for tuberculosis infection in the lungs or other organs, a skin or blood test for evidence of exposure to the bacteria in the past, and, in some cases, taking a sample of the infected organ and testing it for the presence of the bacteria.


Disseminated tuberculosis is treated with a combination of antibiotics. This is the same treatment for tuberculosis in the lungs, but usually needs a longer course of antibiotics. It may take 6 to 12 months to completely treat the infection.


People who are traveling to areas with tuberculosis can be vaccinated against tuberculosis, or should be tested for tuberculosis infection when they return. People who have a tuberculosis infection should take the entire course of antibiotics to completely treat the infection.

Other names for disseminated tuberculosis

  • Tuberculosis outside the lungs
  • Miliary tuberculosis