Tuberculous infection of the oesophagus is rare. This is confirmed by our present review of cases managed in our teaching hospitals over a period of 18 years which uncovered only 11 patients. The main presentation is that of dysphagia whose algorithm of investigation should seek to differentiate tuberculosis from carcinoma, the more common cause of this symptom. Of the 11 patients, 9 presented with dysphagia while 2 had haemorrhage; 7 had an abnormal plain chest radiograph, of whom 4 had a mediastinal mass lesion (3 were lymphadenopathy and one an abscess). All but one had an abnormal radio-contrast oesophagogram, including a mediastinal sinus in two and a traction diverticulum in another two. The mainstay of investigation was oesophagoscopy through which diagnostic biopsy material was obtained in half of the patients. In the other half diagnosis was by either biopsy of associated mediastinal (3) or cervical (1) lymph node masses or by acid fast bacilli positive sputum (1). The diagnosis was established post-mortem in one patient. Treatment was primarily non-operative with standard anti-tuberculosis drug therapy. Two patients underwent a diagnostic thoracotomy and one a drainage of mediastinal abscess together with resection and repair of oesophago-mediastinal sinus during the early part of the series. Outcome of management was very rewarding in 9 patients and death occurred in 2 patients, one of whom had his anti-tuberculosis drug therapy interrupted by severe hepatitis B virus infection. The other death occurred in a patient whose haemorrhage from an aorta-oesophageal fistula was not established ante-mortem. It is recommended that when biopsy material of the oesophagus is unobtainable or non-diagnostic in patients with dysphagia, especially with an abnormal chest radiograph or human immunodeficiency virus infection, effort should be made to obtain biopsy material from associated lymph nodes, even by thoracotomy if necessary, or culture of biopsy from the radiologically abnormal part oesophagus and sputum for mycobacteria, in order to establish the diagnosis of this rare but eminently treatable cause of dysphagia. Clinicians should be aware of tuberculosis of the oesophagus as a possible cause of haematemesis in patients with otherwise unexplained upper gastrointestinal haemorrhage.
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