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definition - Tuberculous_meningitis

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Tuberculous meningitis

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Tuberculous meningitis
Classification and external resources
ICD-10A17.0, G01.
ICD-9013.0, 322.9

Tuberculous meningitis is also known as TB meningitis or tubercular meningitis.

Tuberculous meningitis is Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection of the meninges—the system of membranes which envelops the central nervous system. It is the most common form of CNS tuberculosis.


Clinical features

Fever and headache are the cardinal features. Confusion is a late feature and coma bears a poor prognosis. Meningism is absent in a fifth of patients with TB meningitis. Patients may also have focal neurological deficits.


Mycobacterium tuberculosis of the meninges is the cardinal feature and the inflammation is concentrated towards the base of the brain. When the inflammation is in the brain stem subarachnoid area, cranial nerve roots may be affected. The symptoms will mimic those of space-occupying lesions.[1] Infection begins in the lungs and may spread to the meninges by a variety of routes.

Blood-borne spread certainly occurs and 25% of patients with miliary TB have TB meningitis, presumably by crossing the blood-brain barrier[2]; but a proportion of patients may get TB meningitis from rupture of a cortical focus in the brain (a so-called Rich focus); an even smaller proportion get it from rupture of a bony focus in the spine. It is rare and unusual for TB of the spine to cause TB of the central nervous system, but isolated cases have been described.


Diagnosis of TB meningitis is made by analysing CSF collected by lumbar puncture. When collecting CSF for suspected TB meningitis, a minimum of 1ml of fluid should be taken (preferably 5 to 10ml).

The CSF usually has a high protein, low glucose and a raised number of lymphocytes. Acid-fast bacilli are sometimes seen on a CSF smear, but more commonly, M. tuberculosis is grown in culture. A spiderweb clot in the collected CSF is characteristic of TB meningitis, but is a rare finding.

ELISPOT testing is not useful for the diagnosis of acute TB meningitis and is often false negative,[3] but may paradoxically become positive after treatment has started, which helps to confirm the diagnosis.[4]

More than half of cases of TB meningitis cannot be confirmed microbiologically, and these patients are treated on the basis of clinical suspicion only. The culture of TB from CSF takes a minimum of two weeks, and therefore the majority of patients with TB meningitis are started on treatment before the diagnosis is confirmed.

Nucleic acid amplification tests (NAAT)

This is a heterogeneous group of tests that use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) to detect mycobacterial nucleic acid. These test vary in which nucleic acid sequence they detect and vary in their accuracy. The two most common commercially available tests are the amplified mycobacterium tuberculosis direct test (MTD, Gen-Probe) and Amplicor. In 2007, a systematic review of NAAT by the NHS Health Technology Assessment Programme concluded that for diagnosing tuberculous meningitis "Individually, the AMTD test appears to perform the best (sensitivity 74% and specificity 98%) [page 87]" [5]. In the NHS meta-analysis, they found the pooled prevalence of TB meningitis to be 29% [page 85]; however there was much heterogeneity in the reported sensitivities. Using a clinical calculator, these numbers yield a positive predictive value of 94% and a negative predictive value of 90%; however the 30% prevalence may be high due to referral bias. Alternate estimates of disease prevalence can be entered into the clinical calculator to refine the predictive values.These intcances vary from patient to patient according to their pathology.


Imaging studies such as CT or MRI may show features strongly suggestive of TB meningitis, but cannot diagnose it.


See: tuberculosis treatment

The treatment of TB meningitis is isoniazid, rifampicin, pyrazinamide and ethambutol for two months, followed by isoniazid and rifampicin alone for a further ten months. Steroids are always used in the first six weeks of treatment (and sometimes for longer).[6] A few patients may require immunomodulatory agents such as thalidomide.

Treatment must be started as soon as there is a reasonable suspicion of the diagnosis. Treatment must not be delayed while waiting for confirmation of the diagnosis.

Hydrocephalus occurs as a complication in about a third of patients with TB meningitis and will require a ventricular shunt.


  1. ^ p1301 Robbins and Cotran, Pathologic Basis of Disease, 8th edition
  2. ^ Jain SK, Paul-Satyaseela M, Lamichhane G, et al. (May 2006). [Expression error: Missing operand for > "Mycobacterium tuberculosis invasion and traversal across an invitro human blood-brain barrier as a pathogenic mechanism for central nervous system tuberculosis"]. J. Infect. Dis. 193 (9): 1287–95. doi:10.1086/502631. PMID 1658636. 
  3. ^ Simmons CP, Thwaites GE, Quyen NT, et al. (2006). [Expression error: Missing operand for > "Pretreatment intracerebral and peripheral blood immune responses in Vietnamese adults with tuberculous meningitis: diagnostic value and relationship to disease severity and outcome"]. J Immunol 176 (3): 2007–14. PMID 16424233. 
  4. ^ Kim SH, Kim YS (2009). [Expression error: Missing operand for > "The immunologic paradox in the diagnosis of tuberculous meningitis"]. Clin Vaccine Immunol. PMID 19846679. 
  5. ^ Dinnes J, Deeks J, Kunst H, Gibson A, Cummins E, Waugh N, Drobniewski F, Lalvani A (2007). "A systematic review of rapid diagnostic tests for the detection of tuberculosis infection". Health Technol Assess 11 (3): 1–314. PMID 17266837. http://www.hta.nhsweb.nhs.uk/project/1247.asp. 
  6. ^ Thwaites GE, Nguyen DB, Nguyen HD, et al. (2004). [Expression error: Missing operand for > "Dexamethasone for the treatment of tuberculous meningitis in adolescents and adults"]. N Engl J Med 351 (17): 1741–1751. PMID 15496623. 


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