n South African Journal of Surgery - Lessons from emergency laparotomy for abdominal tuberculosis in the HIV/AIDS era surgery

Volume 52, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0038-2361
  • E-ISSN: 2078-5151



The rising incidence of HIV/AIDS has resulted in a resurgence of abdominal tuberculosis (TB) in HIV-positive patients in South Africa. These often debilitated patients frequently present with acute complications requiring surgery.

A prospective audit of all patients with abdominal TB undergoing emergency laparotomy was conducted. From January 2008 to June 2010, 49 patients had emergency laparotomy and specimens obtained from them were diagnostic of TB. Twenty-five were males and 24 females, with a median age of 32 years (range 2 - 62). Thirty-nine patients were HIV-positive (79.6%).
Intra-operative findings were bowel perforations in 13 cases, small-bowel obstruction in seven, a frozen abdomen in ten, and enlarged lymph nodes and an ileocaecal mass in 19. Eleven patients (22.4%) underwent small-bowel resection and eight (16.3%) right hemicolectomy. Eighteen patients (36.7%) ended up with stomas, 14 (28.6%) had re-laparotomies, and 18 (36.7%) were admitted to the intensive care unit. Twenty-three patients (46.9%) required blood transfusion and 15 (30.6%) total parenteral nutrition. Three patients (6.1%) developed an enterocutaneous fistula and 19 (38.8%) died. Pre-operative illness severity indices of acidosis, anaemia and hypo-albuminaemia were significant predictors of death, but mode of presentation and surgical interventions were not.
Laparotomy as currently practised for the 'acute abdomen' in patients with suspected HIV and abdominal TB is associated with very high morbidity and mortality, which is related to pre-operative severity indices. More liberal use of imaging may define cases in which a more conservative approach could improve outcome.

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