Adenosine deaminase (ADA) activity is typically elevated in patients with tuberculous pleural effusion (TPE), but low ADA has occasionally been reported in patients with TPE. The characteristics of these patients are not well-known, and erroneous exclusion of the possibility of TPE can result in a delayed diagnosis. This study investigated the characteristics of patients with TPE who had low ADA activity.
We retrospectively reviewed patients with microbiologically or pathologically confirmed TPE between 2012 to 2018 in a tertiary hospital in South Korea. Patients were categorised into two groups: high ADA (≥40 IU/L) and low ADA (< 40 IU/L). Clinical characteristics and Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) scores were compared between groups.
A total of 192 patients with TPE were included; 36 (18.8%) had ADA < 40 IU/L with a mean ADA activity level of 20.9 (±9.2) IU/L. Patients with low ADA were older (75.3 vs. 62.0 years, p < 0.001) and had a lower mean lymphocyte percentage (47.6% vs. 69.9%, p < 0.001) than patients with high ADA. Patients in the low ADA group had a significantly higher mean SOFA score (2.31 vs. 0.68, p < 0.001), and patients with organ dysfunction were significantly more common in the low ADA group (p < 0.001). Patients with 2 or ≥ 3 organ dysfunctions constituted 19.4 and 13.9% of the patients in the low ADA group, whereas they constituted 7.1 and 1.3% of the patients in the high ADA group (p < 0.001). Multivariate logistic regression analyses showed that older age (odds ratio = 1.030, 95% confidence interval 1.002-1.060, p = 0.038) and a higher SOFA score (odds ratio = 1.598, 95% confidence interval 1.239-2.060, p < 0.001) were significantly associated with low ADA activity in patients with TPE.
ADA activity can be low in patients with TPE who are elderly, critically ill, and exhibit multiorgan failure. Low ADA activity cannot completely exclude the diagnosis of TPE, and physicians should exercise caution when interpreting pleural fluid exams.