What is Peritoneal Tuberculosis?

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  • Written By: John Markley
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2016
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Peritoneal tuberculosis is a relatively uncommon disease caused by a tuberculosis infection in the lining of the abdomen. It is a type of abdominal tuberculosis that infects the peritoneum, a membrane lining the inside of the abdominal cavity that surrounds the abdominal organs. Tuberculosis is primarily a respiratory illness, but it can infect any area of the body. Like all tuberculosis, peritoneal tuberculosis it is caused primarily by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis and sometimes by other species of the Mycobacterium genus.

Tuberculous enters the peritoneum by spreading from an infection established elsewhere in the body to the abdominal cavity. The infection most frequently originates in the lungs, where it is called pulmonary tuberculosis, before spreading into the abdominal cavity when the sufferer swallows infected sputum. Tuberculosis infections in nearby organs can also spread to the peritoneum. It can also be the result of bacteria entering the peritoneum through the blood stream or lymph nodes. Mycobacterium tuberculosis can lie latent in the body for long periods of time, so symptoms of peritoneal tuberculosis may not occur until years after the bacteria enters the peritoneum. Most people with Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria at any given time are only carriers and do not suffer from the disease, but can start to develop symptoms if their immune response is weakened.


As with other tuberculosis infections, peritoneal tuberculosis causes symptoms such as fever, weakness, and night sweats. Infection of the peritoneum also causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and feelings of pressure or heaviness in the abdomen. Hematochezia, or blood in stool, is also common. A minority of cases of this type of tuberculosis occur simultaneously with pulmonary tuberculosis, which has symptoms such as chest pain, cough, and the production of bloody phlegm, but most cases do not.

The most common form of peritoneal tuberculosis causes an accumulation of fluid, called ascites, in the cavity between the peritoneum's two layers, the parietal peritoneum and the visceral peritoneum. These are called wet type infections, in contrast with dry type infections, where this fluid buildup does not occur. Ascites can cause additional symptoms, such as swelling, distension, and shortness of breath. It also creates a risk of further complications, such as inflammation and renal problems.

Peritoneal tuberculosis is rare in the industrialized world, but more common in developing countries. It is treatable with antibiotics, but can be deadly without medical attention. People with immune systems weakened by poor health, the side effects of some drugs, and illnesses such as AIDS that damage the immune system are especially vulnerable to the danger of a latent infection becoming active.


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Post 4

Here's an interesting thing about the TB tests. A person who has been vaccinated against the disease might test positive because of the vaccination, and not have the actual disease. As I understand it, anybody can get the disease, but people who have healthy immune systems have a low risk of developing symptoms of tuberculosis.

Post 3

When I worked for a newspaper straight out of college, I covered the local homeless shelter, and one time I did a feature story on the various people staying at the shelter and some of the challenges they faced. Of course, they had no shortage of challenges.

One of the biggest health concerns at the shelter was tuberculosis. As you can imagine, when you are homeless you are not able to maintain your health like people who have regular schedules, jobs and homes. Malnutrition was a big problem for the homeless people, and this led to weak immune systems, which makes us more likely to get tuberculosis and any disease for that matter.

Also, many of the people I met and spoke with at the shelter were homeless because of drug addiction, and drug addicts are more likely to develop signs and symptoms of tuberculosis.

Post 2

@Laotionne - There is a vaccine for tuberculosis but it is not used throughout the world. The vaccine was developed in the 1920s, I think. There is some question about how effective the vaccine actually is, and since cases of tuberculosis are low in well developed countries the vaccine is not used a much as it was during the early and mid 20th century.

Post 1

Isn't there a vaccination for tuberculosis? I remember reading about how this disease was a really big problem and killed a lot of people in the past, but in this day and time you don't hear so much about, which I'm thinking is a good thing.

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