Miliary tuberculosis (TB) is a rare condition that occurs when tuberculosis bacteria enter the bloodstream and spread to multiple parts of the body. Symptoms can vary from person to person.

Miliary TB is a rare but serious form of tuberculosis (TB). It happens when a person inhales TB particles in the air, and those particles enter the bloodstream.

This article discusses the potential symptoms of miliary TB and what causes it in more detail. It also looks at treatment options, diagnosis, and more.

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Symptoms of miliary TB can vary and are typically nonspecific. Some of the general symptoms can include:

Symptoms may also vary depending on the variant of miliary TB. There are two main variants: acute miliary TB and cryptic miliary TB.

Acute miliary TB

Acute miliary TB typically affects people under the age of 40 years. Alongside the general well-being symptoms, a person with acute miliary TB may experience symptoms including:

Cryptic miliary TB

Cryptic miliary TB typically affects people over the age of 60 years. Some typical symptoms can include:

Other symptoms

As miliary TB can affect multiple parts of the body, a person may develop additional conditions that present their own set of symptoms. The most common parts of the body affected by miliary TB can include:

Miliary TB can occur when a TB lesion erodes into a blood vessel and releases bacteria into a person’s bloodstream.

TB spreads through the air. If a person inhales TB particles, the particles sit in the lungs. They can also enter the bloodstream and spread to multiple parts of the body. The bacteria then grow and affect multiple tissues and organs.

Learn more about TB.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a group of medications called antitubercular medications for the treatment of TB. They are also suitable for the treatment of miliary TB.

There are several different treatment regimens for these medications. Treatment can take 4, 6, or 9 months depending on the specific treatment.

As miliary TB can affect multiple parts of the body, a person may need to receive additional treatment for individual symptoms. A doctor will be able to advise on treatments for managing or treating specific symptoms.

Due to the varied nature of miliary TB symptoms, diagnosis can be challenging. A doctor may begin by asking questions about symptoms, requesting a full medical story, and performing a physical examination to assist with reaching an accurate diagnosis.

They may then order various tests to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other possible causes. Tests they may order include:

  • chest radiography or high-resolution CT scan to see if the millet seed-sized TB bacteria are present
  • blood tests
  • TB skin tests (TST)
  • taking a sample of phlegm

Learn about TB skin tests.

Miliary TB is a rare form of TB that accounts for approximately 1–2% of TB cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 8,920 cases of TB in the United States in 2019. It affected around 2.7 per 100,000 people.

Miliary TB is more common in:

  • children under the age of 4 years
  • immunocompromised people
  • older individuals

Many countries offer the Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine to help prevent miliary TB.

However, in the U.S., the risk of infection is low. Therefore, only people who meet certain criteria may want to consider receiving the BCG vaccine.

It is best for a person to contact their doctor for advice if they have concerns about miliary TB.

Learn more about the BCG vaccine.

Here are some more frequently asked questions about miliary TB.

What is the difference between pulmonary TB and miliary TB?

Pulmonary TB occurs when TB bacteria attack the lungs. Miliary TB occurs when TB bacteria enter the bloodstream and attack multiple organs and parts of the body.

Learn more about pulmonary TB.

Does miliary TB need isolation?

In general, isolation may not be necessary for cases of miliary TB. However, if local health officials determine that a person with miliary TB may place members of the public at risk of contracting the infection, a person may have to undergo a period of isolation.

What is the survival rate of miliary TB?

Providing a person has access to the correct medications and critical care, the risk of mortality is low.

If a person with miliary TB does not receive adequate treatment, the rate of mortality is close to 100%.

It is important that a person seeks immediate medical advice if they have concerns about miliary TB.

Miliary TB is a type of TB that occurs when TB lesions erode into a blood vessel, release bacteria into the bloodstream. This allows the infection to affect various parts of the body, causing a range of symptoms.

Treatment for miliary TB focuses on antitubercular medications. A person may also require treatment for specific symptoms they are experiencing.

If a person suspects miliary TB, it’s important that they contact a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and to begin treatment as early as possible. Examples of tests a doctor may use to confirm the diagnosis include chest radiography and tuberculosis skin tests.