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Pott Disease Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Jose A Hidalgo, MD; Chief Editor: John L Brusch, MD, FACP  more...
Updated: Jun 03, 2016


The presentation of Pott disease depends on the following[19] :

  • Stage of disease
  • Affected site
  • Presence of complications such as neurologic deficits, abscesses, or sinus tracts

Potential constitutional symptoms of Pott disease include fever and weight loss. The reported average duration of symptoms at diagnosis is 4 months[15] but can be considerably longer.[17, 20] This is due to the nonspecific presentation of chronic back pain.

Back pain is the earliest and most common symptom of Pott disease, with patients usually experiencing this problem for weeks before seeking treatment. The pain caused by Pott disease can be spinal or radicular.

Neurologic abnormalities occur in 50% of cases and can include spinal cord compression with paraplegia, paresis, impaired sensation, nerve root pain, and/or cauda equina syndrome.

Cervical spine tuberculosis is a less common presentation but is potentially more serious because severe neurologic complications are more likely. This condition is characterized by pain and stiffness. Patients with lower cervical spine disease can present with dysphagia or stridor. Symptoms can also include torticollis, hoarseness, and neurologic deficits.

The clinical presentation of spinal tuberculosis in patients infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is similar to that of patients who are HIV negative; however, spinal tuberculosis seems to be more common in persons infected with HIV.[21]


Physical Examination

The physical examination in Pott disease should include the following:

  • Careful assessment of spinal alignment
  • Inspection of skin, with attention to detection of sinuses
  • Abdominal evaluation for subcutaneous flank mass
  • Meticulous neurologic examination

Although the thoracic and lumbar spinal segments are nearly equally affected in persons with Pott disease, the thoracic spine is frequently reported as the most common site of involvement. Together, these segments make up 80-90% of spinal tuberculosis sites, with the remaining cases of Pott disease occurring in the cervical spine.[16, 17, 19] Almost all patients with Pott disease have some degree of spine deformity (kyphosis).

Examination should reveal local pain related to the affected area or radicular pain. Muscle spasm and rigidity can also be associated.

Large, cold abscesses of paraspinal tissues or psoas muscle may protrude under the inguinal ligament and may erode into the perineum or gluteal area.

Neurologic deficits may occur early in the course of Pott disease. Signs of such deficits depend on the level of spinal cord or nerve root compression.

Pott disease that involves the upper cervical spine can cause rapidly progressive symptoms. Retropharyngeal abscesses occur in almost all cases affecting this part of the spine. Neurologic manifestations occur early and range from a single nerve palsy to hemiparesis or quadriplegia.

A large proportion of patients with Pott disease do not present with extraskeletal disease. In reported series, only 10-38% of cases of Pott disease are associated with extraskeletal tuberculosis.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Jose A Hidalgo, MD Assistant Professor, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos; Attending Physician, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Guillermo Almenara Hospital, Peru

Jose A Hidalgo, MD is a member of the following medical societies: HIV Medicine Association, Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


George Alangaden, MD Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Detroit Medical Center, Wayne State University School of Medicine

George Alangaden, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

John L Brusch, MD, FACP Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Consulting Staff, Department of Medicine and Infectious Disease Service, Cambridge Health Alliance

John L Brusch, MD, FACP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians, Infectious Diseases Society of America

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Thomas E Herchline, MD Professor of Medicine, Wright State University, Boonshoft School of Medicine; Medical Director, Public Health, Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio

Thomas E Herchline, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, Infectious Diseases Society of America, and Infectious Diseases Society of Ohio

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Joseph F John Jr, MD, FACP, FIDSA, FSHEA Clinical Professor of Medicine, Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine; Associate Chief of Staff for Education, Ralph H Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Salary Employment

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MRI of a 31-year-old man with tuberculosis of the spine. Images show the thoracic spine before and after an infusion of intravenous gadolinium contrast. The abscess and subsequent destruction of the T11-T12 disc interspace is marked with arrowheads. Vertebral body alignment is normal. Courtesy of Mark C. Diamond, MD, and J. Antonio Bouffard, MD, Detroit, Mich.
MRI of the T11 in a 31-year-old man with tuberculosis of the spine. Extensive bone destruction consistent with tuberculous osteomyelitis is evident. The spinal cord has normal caliber and signal. No evidence of spinal cord compression or significant spinal stenosis is distinguishable. Courtesy of Mark C. Diamond, MD, and J. Antonio Bouffard, MD, Detroit, Mich.
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