2.5 Summary of clinical presentations of tuberculosis

Select language:
On this page



    Table 2.3 – Clinical presentations and considerations for HIV-infected persons



    Clinical presentations

    Considerations for HIV patients

    Pulmonary TB

    • Prolonged cough (> 2 weeks), with or without sputum production.
    • Weight loss, anorexia, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, moderate fever, night sweats, haemoptysis.
    • Fever and weight loss more common and pronounced.
    • Cough and haemoptysis may be less common (less inflammation and cavity formation).
    • See algorithm, Chapter 5.

    Disseminated miliary TB

    • Non-specific symptoms: high fever, headache, weight loss.
    • Deterioration over days or weeks.
    • Simultaneous involvement of multiple organs.
    • High risk of meningitis in children.
    • Miliary findings on CXR.
    • May be confused with severe wasting in advanced HIV disease.
    • M. tuberculosis sometimes isolated from blood cultures.

    Lymph node TB

    • Most often in cervical region.
    • Non-inflammatory, painless node > 2 cm, chronic (> 4 weeks); fistulisation possible.
    • HIV infection can cause persistent generalised lymphadenopathy (PGL). PGL lymph nodes are painless, and symmetrical. Posterior cervical or epitrochlear nodes are often involved.
    • Other common causes of lymphadenopathy include: lymphoma, carcinomatous metastases, Kaposi sarcoma.

    TB meningitis

    • Subacute, insidious.
    • Headache, irritability, fever, altered consciousness.
    • Meningeal syndrome usually present.
    • Rule out cryptococcal meningitis: perform antigen test on serum and CSF.

    Bone and joint TB

    • Monoarthitis with joint destruction and little or no pain.
    • Deformity of the spine (Pott’s disease).
    • Multifocal disease more common.

    Urogenital TB

    • Renal: urinary symptoms, few constitutional symptoms; suspected when no response to antibiotics for urinary infection.
    • Non-specific gynaecological symptoms, infertility or epididymitis with scrotal pain.

    Abdominal TB

    • Ascites (may mask weight loss).
    • Abdominal mass, pain, diarrhoea.
    • PTB more frequently associated.


    • Pleural: pleuritic chest pain, dyspnoea.
    • Pericardial: chest pain, dyspnoea, lower limb oedema or ascites, pericardial friction rub.
    • Serious effusions are common.
    • TB is the most likely aetiology in high TB-HIV prevalence settings.