A critical examination of adrenal tuberculosis and a 28-year autopsy experience of active tuberculosis.
OBJECTIVE Tuberculosis is potentially fatal and adrenal gland involvement is uncommonly reported. The aims of the current study were to define the characteristics of tuberculosis in hospitalized patients and to analyse the features of adrenal tuberculosis. DESIGN Retrospective analysis of autopsies and adrenalectomies. Patients 13 762 patients (13492 at autopsies and 270 at adrenalectomy). MEASUREMENTS The presence of active tuberculosis, the predisposing factors, the pathological features and organs of involvement were examined. RESULTS Active tuberculosis was present in 871 patients (6·5% of all 13492 autopsies). It was first diagnosed in 70% of these patients during autopsy. Cancers and a history of recent major operations were the 2 main concomitant factors in the patients with tuberculosis. Extra-pulmonary tuberculosis was seen in 261 patients (30%). The five most common extra-pulmonary sites of tuberculosis were the liver, spleen, kidney, bone and adrenal gland. Adrenal tuberculosis was seen in 52 of the 871 patients (6%) with active tuberculosis at autopsy and in 3 patients at adrenalectomy. The adrenal gland was the only organ involved by active tuberculosis in 14 of these 55 patients (25%; 35 men, 20 women). Tuberculosis was evident on macroscopic examination of the adrenal glands in 46% of the patients. On histological examination, caseous necrosis and granulomatous inflammation with Langhan's giant cells were seen in 71% and 40% of patients, respectively. Seven patients presented with signs and symptoms of Addison's disease due to bilateral adrenal involvement. Langhan's giant cells were frequently seen in histological sections and bilateral enlargement of the adrenal glands was often noted. Fine needle aspiration cytology was not useful for diagnosing adrenal tuberculosis. CONCLUSION Unexpected and extra-pulmonary tuberculosis such as adrenal tuberculosis has been a common problem. A high index of suspicion, correct diagnosis and proper treatment are essential for the management of tuberculosis.