Atypical Imaging Features of Tuberculous Spondylitis: Case Report with Literature Review

Atypical Imaging Features of Tuberculous Spondylitis: Case Report with Literature Review

Rita Momjian, Mina George


Spinal tuberculosis in its typical form that shows destruction of two adjacent vertebral bodies and opposing end plates, destruction of the intervening intervertebral disc and a paravertebral or psoas abscess, is easily recognized and readily treated. Atypical tuberculous spondylitis without the above mentioned imaging features, although seen infrequently, has been well documented. We present, in this report, a case of atypical tuberculous spondylitis showing involvement of contiguous lower dorsal vertebral bodies and posterior elements with paravertebral and epidural abscess but with preserved intervertebral discs. The patient presented in advanced stage with progressive severe neurological symptoms due to spinal cord compression. Non-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging led to misdiagnosis of the lesion as a neoplastic process. It was followed by contrast enhanced computed tomography of the chest and abdomen that raised the possibility of an infectious process and, post-operatively, histopathological examination of the operative specimen confirmed tuberculosis. This case indicates the difficulty in differentiating atypical spinal tuberculosis from other diseases causing spinal cord compression. The different forms of atypical tuberculous spondylitis reported in the literature are reviewed. The role of the radiologist in tuberculous spondylitis is not only to recognize the imaging characteristics of the disease by best imaging modality, which is contrast enhanced magnetic resonance imaging, but also to be alert to the more atypical presentations to ensure early diagnosis and prompt treatment to prevent complications. However, when neither clinical examination nor magnetic resonance imaging findings are reliable in differentiating spinal infection from one another and from neoplasm, adequate biopsy, either imaging guided or surgical biopsy is essential for early diagnosis.


Tuberculosis; spondylodiscitis; spinal tuberculosis; Pott's disease; atypical tuberculous spondylitis; MRI