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Volume 43, Number 3, June 2010

Abdominal Tuberculosis in Children: A Diagnostic Challenge

Yo-Spring Lin, Yhu-Chering Huang, Tzou-Yien Lin

Received: February 25, 2009    Revised: May 25, 2009    Accepted: June 17, 2009   


Corresponding author:

Yhu-Chering Huang


Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, Department of Pediatrics, Chang Gung Children’s

Hospital, 5 Fu-Shin Street, Kweishan 333, Taoyuan, Taiwan.




Background and purpose: 

Abdominal tuberculosis (TB) is a rare manifestation of childhood TB. Abdominal TB is characterized by long-lasting abdominal symptoms, which are usually confused with other conditions, and the diagnosis is usually delayed.



During a 5-year period, we identified 10 cases of abdominal TB in a tertiary care children's hospital. Data including demographic characteristics, presenting symptoms, history of Bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccination, lesion sites, laboratory data, image findings, diagnosis, tuberculin skin test, risk factors, treatment, and outcome were collected and analyzed.



There were six female patients and four male patients, with a mean age of 14.7 years. One patient died due to the complication of disseminated TB with a pneumothorax. Household members with TB could be traced in six (60%) patients. The most common clinical presentations included fever (9/10), abdominal pain (8/10), and weight loss (8/9). The diagnosis of abdominal TB was suspected initially in only three patients; the others were not diagnosed until 7–36 days (mean=19 days) after hospitalization. The abnormal abdominal image findings, by either computed tomography or ultrasound, included lymphadenopathy (7/9), high-density ascites (6/9), thickening of the omentum or peritoneum (6/9), inflammatory mass (3/9), bowel wall thickening (1/9), and liver abscess (1/9). The chest radiography was abnormal in nine patients. Mycobacterium tuberculosis was isolated from ascites in two out of four patients, gastric aspirates in three, sputum in three, and intra-abdominal tissue specimens in two. Laparotomy was performed in three patients, laparoscopy in one, and colonoscopy in one.



In Taiwan, abdominal TB should be considered in patients with fever, abdominal pain, weight loss, and abnormal chest radiography. Characteristic computed tomography findings of abdominal TB and a history of exposure to TB contribute to the diagnosis.


Key words:

 abdominal tuberculosis children computed tomography Mycobacterium tuberculosis Taiwan