The International Journal of Mycobacteriology

: 2018  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 285--287

The paradoxical evolution in an unusual case of disseminated tuberculosis: Spontaneous resolution with disease progression

Siew Yee Thien, Shuwei Zheng 
 Department of Infectious Diseases, Singapore General Hospital, Singapore, Singapore

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Shuwei Zheng
Department of Infectious Diseases, Singapore General Hospital, Outram Road


Mycobacterium tuberculosis can cause a myriad of clinical manifestations. We describe a case of a patient with end-stage renal failure, who presented with disseminated tuberculosis over the course of five months, manifesting with a self-resolving mediastinal mass, progressive lymphadenopathy, genitourinary, and musculoskeletal tuberculosis.

How to cite this article:
Thien SY, Zheng S. The paradoxical evolution in an unusual case of disseminated tuberculosis: Spontaneous resolution with disease progression.Int J Mycobacteriol 2018;7:285-287

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Thien SY, Zheng S. The paradoxical evolution in an unusual case of disseminated tuberculosis: Spontaneous resolution with disease progression. Int J Mycobacteriol [serial online] 2018 [cited 2021 Jun 19 ];7:285-287
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Full Text


Mycobacterium tuberculosis is an ancient bacterium known to cause a myriad of clinical manifestations. Herein, we highlight the clinical and radiological evolution of a patient with a delayed diagnosis of disseminated tuberculosis, manifesting with a self-resolving tuberculous mediastinal mass.

 Case Report

A 64-year-old female presented with an incidental anterior mediastinal mass measuring 5.9 cm × 2.9 cm × 5.8 cm on computed tomography (CT) scan of the thorax [Figure 1]a and [Figure 1]b as part of a precoronary artery bypass graft evaluation. There were no pulmonary lesions or lymphadenopathy seen. She had recently been diagnosed with triple-vessel coronary artery disease following an out-of-hospital collapse with ventricular fibrillation. She has a known history of end-stage renal failure (ESRF), secondary to diabetic nephropathy, and has been on hemodialysis for the past 2 months. Her last glycated hemoglobin then was 5.3%. In view of the concerns for malignancy, she underwent a CT imaging of her abdomen and pelvis, which only revealed nonspecific thickening of the rectum and thinning of the renal parenchyma. A CT-guided biopsy of the anterior mediastinal mass was performed; however, the results were nonyielding. Serological testing for human immunodeficiency virus was negative.{Figure 1}

A month later, she presented with hematochezia. She underwent a flexible sigmoidoscopy revealing evidence of proctitis in the lower rectum without any biopsy performed. A CT colonography showed mural thickening at the rectum and new multiple small retroperitoneal and pelvic lymphadenopathy. She underwent a repeat CT-guided biopsy of the mediastinal mass, noting an interval reduction in the size of this lesion. Histology returned, showing the evidence of necrotizing granulomatous inflammation. Unfortunately, she defaulted follow-up.

Five months later, she presented with recurrent right-sided knee pain and fever over the course of 2 weeks. On examination, she was febrile but hemodynamically stable. Cardiorespiratory and abdominal examinations were unremarkable. She had a limited range of motion over her knee with a tender, soft-tissue swelling medially. Her hemoglobin was 11.3 g/dL, white blood cell (WBC) count was 35.69 × 109/L, and platelet count was 538 × 109/L. Her C-reactive protein (CRP) was 183 mg/L, and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate was 84 mm/h. A bedside arthrocentesis yielded minimal fluid with negative bacterial gram stain and cultures. She was commenced on IV cefazolin. This improved but did not resolve her knee pain and swelling. Her WBC count and CRP reduced to 11.18 × 109/L and 44.5 mg/L, respectively, but fever persisted. A CT imaging of her chest, abdomen, and pelvis was repeated to reevaluate the abnormalities seen previously. There was a complete resolution of the mediastinal mass and rectal thickening, but an interval increase in the size of the previous intra-abdominal and pelvic lymphadenopathy [Figure 1]c and [Figure 1]d. A magnetic resonance imaging of her right knee revealed a 7.3 cm × 3.8 cm × 6.4 cm lobulated mass at the posteromedial aspect, likely representing a fluid-distended bursa [Figure 2]. There was also evidence of knee effusion, marrow edema in the patella and proximal tibia, and an irregularity of the subchondral bone plates suggestive of osteomyelitis. A CT-guided aspiration of the fluid collection at the right knee yielded 50 ml of frank pus. This tested negative for bacterial gram stain and culture, fungal microscopy, and acid-fast bacilli (AFB) smears. M. tuberculosis complex (MTC) deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was detected. Three samples of early morning urine were negative for MTC DNA amplification and AFB smears, pending cultures. She underwent a right knee arthroscopic washout. Intraoperative knee fluid and tissue returned positive for MTC DNA in two of three specimens sent, although the AFB smears were negative. She was started on MTC induction therapy with rifampicin, isoniazid, pyrazinamide, and ethambutol. At the outpatient review, her clinical symptoms resolved with normalization of her WBC count and CRP. Eventually, two of the three early morning urine specimens and all four knee fluid/tissue specimens grew pan-susceptible MTC. After 6 months of treatment, a repeat CT imaging of her abdomen and pelvis showed a resolution of the intra-abdominal lymphadenopathy. As such, she had disseminated tuberculosis involving the right knee joint with osteomyelitis, genitourinary tract, intra-abdominal lymph nodes, and a self-resolving mediastinal necrotizing granulomatous mass. She completed a total of 2 months of induction followed by 7 months of maintenance therapy with rifampicin and isoniazid.{Figure 2}


ESRF is a risk factor for tuberculosis as a result of decreased cell-mediated immunity (CMI). Extrapulmonary tuberculosis is also known to be more common among this group of patients in comparison to the general population.[1] Disseminated tuberculosis, defined as isolation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis from the blood or bone marrow from a liver biopsy specimen, or from specimens from two or more contiguous organs in a single patient, has been rarely described in patients with ESRF.[2],[3],[4],[5],[6],[7],[8] Among 164 patients in a single center with disseminated tuberculosis, the most common comorbidity was the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, followed by diabetes mellitus and malignancy. Only 8.5% had ESRF in this series.[8] We present a rare case of disseminated tuberculosis in a patient with ESRF who developed new symptoms over the course of 6 months before the diagnosis of tuberculosis was confirmed.

In the initial stage of infection, MTC disseminates before the onset of an acquired macrophage-activating CMI. With the development of CMI, granulomatous lesions form. A tissue-damaging response triggered by MTC antigens results in the destruction of inactivated macrophages that contain multiplying MTC and necrosis. Where these two host responses predominate, latency ensues; where host responses fail, expanding infection results in disease.[9] Our patient demonstrated an interesting ability to contain infectious tubercles within the anterior mediastinum but with uncontrolled dissemination and disease at other body sites (abdominal lymph nodes, genitourinary tract, and musculoskeletal system). While such a phenomenon of a self-limited end-organ involvement of tuberculosis is well described in tuberculous pleural effusions where spontaneous resolution within weeks is the norm,[10] this is not widely described in other disease sites. Studies about the natural history of tuberculosis are surprisingly few and mostly based on prechemotherapy data.[11] Our case demonstrated an interesting intricate balance between the tubercle bacilli and the innate host immune response pretuberculous chemotherapy.


The authors would like to thank the Medical Publication Support Unit, National University Health System, for their editorial services.

Declaration of patient consent

The authors certify that they have obtained all appropriate patient consent forms. In the form the patient(s) has/have given his/her/their consent for his/her/their images and other clinical information to be reported in the journal. The patients understand that their names and initials will not be published and due efforts will be made to conceal their identity, but anonymity cannot be guaranteed.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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