BACKGROUND: Pulmonary tuberculosis can produce unusual radiographic appearances and negative results of sputum and bronchoscopic examinations are common. This study assessed the value of ultrasound guided aspiration biopsy in the diagnosis of pulmonary tuberculosis with unusual radiographic appearances. METHODS: Thirteen patients, ultimately diagnosed as having tuberculosis, underwent a chest ultrasonographic examination between June 1984 and August 1991. All had sputum available for examination and nine were also examined by bronchoscopy. Ten patients who had a negative sputum smear and negative bronchoscopic brushing smears underwent ultrasound guided aspiration or biopsy. Percutaneous aspiration was performed with a 22 gauge needle. If the smear did not reveal acid fast bacilli, a biopsy sample was taken with a 16 gauge Tru-cut needle to obtain a histological diagnosis. RESULTS: The ultrasonographic examination delineated the more complex nature of the lesions better than the chest radiograph. Ultrasound guided aspiration biopsy provided the diagnosis in nine of 10 patients, while the sputum smear and culture provided diagnosis in five of 13, and bronchoscopy in four of nine. In terms of rapid diagnosis, ultrasound guided aspiration biopsy gave the diagnosis in eight of 10 cases. No patient developed a major complication. CONCLUSION: Ultrasonography can direct the needle to the most suitable part of a lesion to obtain the relevant specimens. The diagnostic yield is high and the procedure is relatively safe. It is especially helpful in patients with negative results of sputum and bronchoscopic examinations.
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