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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Delayed Diagnosis of Spinal Tuberculosis in a 44-year-old Male with Acute on Chronic Low Back Pain


Spinal tuberculosis (STB), also known as tuberculous spondylitis, tuberculous vertebral osteomyelitis, or Pott’s disease is a rare subset of extrapulmonary tuberculosis. Although rare in developed countries, STB is an important diagnosis for the emergency physician to consider. We report a case of a 44-year-old African-American male with STB presenting as an acute exacerbation of chronic low back pain complicated by urinary retention and difficulty ambulating. Our patient had no known predisposing risk factors for tuberculosis. This patient’s STB was mistakenly diagnosed as nontuberculous vertebral osteomyelitis. This is not uncommon, as it is often difficult to distinguish the two clinically. This patient experienced advanced neurologic features at the time of initial presentation, which improved with surgical decompression. Ultimately, he re-presented to the emergency department 10 days after hospital discharge with recurrence of symptoms due to inaccurate antimicrobial selection. The diagnosis may hinge on the astute physician recognizing the characteristic, albeit subtle, imaging findings of STB.

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