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Don't ignore sudden weight loss and back pain -- symptoms of spinal tuberculosis

back painMarch 24 is World Tuberculosis Day.

Don't ignore constant back pain or sudden, unexplained weight loss. Chances are, you could be suffering from spinal TB. Other symptoms include fever, night sweats. If these last for more than a week, it is a cause to worry warn health experts. Spinal tuberculosis accounts for almost 50 per cent of musculo-skeletal TB in developing countries, the experts say.

'Spinal tuberculosis, also known as Pott spine, is one of the most common spinal diseases in India. It represents almost 50 per cent of the musculo-skeletal tuberculosis in the developing countries,' Shashi Baliyan, managing director, of Clearmedi Healthcare Private Limited, a multidimensional service provider, told IANS.

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TB in humans is caused by the Mycobacterium Tuberculosis bacteria.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 2.2 million tuberculosis patients in India, which makes it the world's highest TB-burden country.

'Spinal TB often spreads from the lungs via the blood. The lower thorasic and the upper lumbar vertabrae are the most common sites,' Baliyan said.

Kailash Nath Gupta, chest and critical care specialist and interventional pulmonologist at Gurgaon's Columbia Asia Hospital, said there is no single test that can accurately diagnose the disease.

'Once TB affects the spine, it can lead to pus formation, which can destroy the vertebrae if not diagnosed and accordingly treated,' Gupta added.

'The pus can trickle down to the thigh and the pelvic portions and can even cause an infection in the entire lower part of the body,' he noted.

Arun Bhanot, chief of spine services at Gurgaon's Paras Hospital, agreed. 'We are in a country which is endemic to tuberculosis. When the immunity level goes down, the bacteria is likely to strike,' he said, adding: 'Spinal TB is more prevalent in countries like India, China and Russia.'

According to Baliyan, 'approximately 10 per cent of the TB cases affect the skeleton, and of those, five per cent are in the spine.'

Gupta suggested evaluation of the spine, among other things, as remedies.

'Patients should not ignore back pain or light fever and should consult a spine specialist if the symptoms persist. MRI (Magentic Resonance Imaging) and blood tests are a must for TB patients,' he said.

For Baliyan, a thorough examination and co-relating the common symptoms forms the key to early diagnosis of the disease.

'Early diagnosis, prompt treatment and compliance with the treatment protocol can lead to managing the disease,' he added.

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a common infectious disease caused by bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis which affects the lungs. Main symptoms of TB are severe cough that lasts for three weeks or longer, bloody or discoloured sputum, night sweats, fever, fatigue and weakness, pain in the chest, loss of appetite, and pain during breathing or coughing. India had the highest total number of TB cases worldwide in 2010 partly due to poor disease management by the private healthcare sector. TB can be prevented by vaccination and maintaining high levels of hygiene. Once infected, the patient should follow the medication regimen properly. By not doing so, there are chances of developing resistance to anti-TB drugs resulting in an aggressive form of TB called MDR-TB (multi-drug resistant TB). (Read:Tuberculosis causes, symptoms and diagnosis)

With inputs from IANS

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