What is Miliary Tuberculosis?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2016
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Miliary tuberculosis is a type of infection that begins in the lungs and spreads throughout the body, affecting many important organs. It progresses slowly and does not cause any initial symptoms. Over the course of weeks or months, an infected person develops a fever, chronic cough, and feelings of fatigue and weakness. In time, miliary tuberculosis can cause severe infections in the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, and pancreas. The condition can be fatal without treatment, but doctors can usually eliminate infection and promote recovery by administering specialized antibiotics.

Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a highly contagious type of bacterium that is inhaled into the lungs. A healthy immune system can usually combat bacteria, killing the infection before it causes any adverse health problems. People who have weakened immune systems, however, are highly susceptible to the bacteria. Autoimmune disorders such as HIV and cancer, unsanitary living conditions, and malnourishment all increase a person's likelihood of contracting miliary tuberculosis.

The first action of the bacteria is to form small tumors on the interior lining of the lungs. Over time, the infection spreads throughout the body via the bloodstream, affecting lymph nodes, bone tissue, the heart, and other major organs. An individual with miliary tuberculosis gradually develops a cough, fever, and chills. He or she might notice lymph node swelling in the abdomen, groin, and neck. In cases where miliary tuberculosis goes untreated, the liver, pancreas and spleen can become inflamed and swollen.


Careful diagnosis and medical treatment is vital in order to prevent permanent damage to internal organs, including the brain. A doctor can usually diagnose miliary tuberculosis by conducting a thorough physical examination, taking an x-ray of the chest and lungs, and collecting blood and saliva samples for laboratory analysis. The presence of small tumors in the lungs and a lowered white blood cell count are usually clear signs of tuberculosis.

If the disease is still in the early stages of progression, doctors can usually treat it by administering oral antibiotics and recommending lifestyle changes, such as getting plenty of exercise and eating a more nutritious diet. Patients are often instructed to take antibiotics for several months to ensure that the bacteria are fully eradicated from their systems. Treatment for health problems caused by miliary tuberculosis, such as decreased lung, liver, and spleen functioning, may require additional medication or surgery. With treatment, the majority of tuberculosis patients experience full recoveries from their symptoms.


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Post 5

I remember when I was a young child, we used to have to get tuberculosis skin tests. A substance is injected into the top layers of skin. Then we had to wait about 2 - 3 days and go back, usually to the school nurse, to have the bump read. Everybody was always nervous about this part.

If the injection site measured a certain size or if there were blisters, you might have been exposed to TB. I think if this happened, you had to be tested again sometime later.

This test is now given in some developing countries, but tuberculosis has pretty much disappeared from this country. So no routine tests are given anymore.

Post 4

I know that various kinds of tuberculosis infection were common up until a few decades ago.I remember reading many old western stories about people getting what they call consumption and they often died. They just didn't have the antibiotics we have today to treat the disease.

Many of the people who got it probably had poor immune systems, had poor nutrition, and their bodies just could fight against it.

Since it affected so many parts of the body, those patients must have been miserable.

Post 3

@EdRick - I have a sister who's a nurse who did some work with homeless populations a few years back. Basically, "miliary" doesn't describe the cause of the disease; it describes where it's located. Tuberculosis begins in the lungs (pulmonary tuberculosis) which is why the classic symptom is "coughing up blood."

Miliary tuberculosis occurs when the infection has spread to other parts of the body. That's why the article makes the point that miliary tuberculosis treatment is so critical.

Post 2

This sounds like what I've heard about tuberculosis symptoms, but the article specifies that this is miliary tuberculosis. Are there other kinds?

I guess they used to talk about "consumption" and if you read old novels, you'll find plenty of wealthy people with it. But I think the article makes the point that you were and are a lot more likely to get it if you're poor - "unsanitary living conditions" and "malnutrition."

Post 1

nice article.

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