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TB in the elderly not easily detectable.

Tuberculosis in older people does not follow a predictable course. It is often the reason that many physicians overlook the seriousness of the problem.

The most common symptom is a chronic cough that may have had its origins with what appeared to be an ordinary cold or an episode of grippe or "flu."

Loss of appetite and loss of weight often follow, too often attributed to poor eating habits, especially among those hampered by ill-fitting dentures or gum disease. Swallowing difficulties in the elderlly are also implicated in diagnosing weight loss and reduction of food intake.

Other manifestations of tuberculosis are "night sweats," spitting of blood, kidney malfunctioning, or bowel irregularities. Although tuberculosis usually involves the lungs, other organs of the body can become infected, such as lymph nodes, intestinal tract, spine, bones, kidneys, or liver.

Because many younger physicians were educated at a time when the dread disease was considered passe, not enough concern for detecting tuberculosis is manifested.

Individuals who have ever tested positive in a TB skin test or continue to suffer nagging illnesses that are not satisfactorily diagnosed should suggest to their doctors the possibility of tuberculosis.

The only certain diagnosis, according to most physicians who are alert to the disease's prevalence, is isolation of the germ by culture in the laboratory. In the elderly, it is not unusual for some tuberculosis microbes (tubercle bacilli) to be found in small numbers, but that occurrence should not affect the investigation. Positive or negative results require further investigation -- it is possible for a totally negative response to mask the presence of an active case of tuberculosis. Tests should be repeated.

There is an optimistic aspect to tuberculosis detected in the elderly. Because the germs causing the disease were acquired earlier in life, medications administered are highly effective against them. Usually a combination of several drugs is more effective than one alone, according to physicians who have acquired considerable experience with the problem.
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Title Annotation:Special Issue: Tuberculosis; symptoms of tuberculosis in older people
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jun 22, 1991
Words:324
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