Review article: the diagnosis and management of Crohn’s disease in populations with high-risk rates for tuberculosis


Dr D. Epstein, Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Medicine, Groote Schuur Hospital, Anzio Road, Observatory, 7925, Cape Town, South Africa.


Background  Distinguishing Crohn’s disease from intestinal tuberculosis in endemic areas is challenging as both conditions have overlapping clinical, radiological, endoscopic and histological characteristics. Furthermore, high rates of latent tuberculosis confer a considerable risk of reactivation once therapy for established Crohn’s disease is started.

Aim  To review current strategies in differentiating these two conditions, and in managing Crohn’s disease, in populations with high rates of tuberculosis.

Methods  Literature review and clinical experience.

Results  While various clinical, radiological, endoscopic and histological parameters may aid in differentiating Crohn’s disease from intestinal tuberculosis, these remain imperfect and as treatment options differ misdiagnosis has grave consequences. We propose a diagnostic algorithm, based on currently available evidence and experience, to aid in this dilemma. We also discuss approaches to the management of Crohn’s disease, including agents targeting tumour necrosis factor-α, in patients at risk of developing tuberculosis.

Conclusions  A diagnosis of Crohn’s disease in individuals at risk for tuberculosis should only be made after careful interpretation of clinical signs, abdominal imaging and systematic endoscopic and histological assessment. Newer techniques for the diagnosis of latent tuberculosis still need to be validated in this environment, and guidelines on the treatment of latent tuberculosis in this setting require clarification.