We reviewed the records of 1,738 cases of tuberculosis seen during the period from 1968 to 1988 in Mobile, Alabama. Seventy cases of tuberculous pleural effusion were identified and constituted 4.9 percent of all disease due to Mycobacterium tuberculosis during this period. Tuberculous pleural effusion was diagnosed if the patient had M tuberculosis cultured from sputum, pleura, or pleural fluid and had a roentgenographic pleural effusion without an alternative explanation for the presence of the effusion. The diagnosis of tuberculous pleural effusion was made in the absence of a positive culture if the patient had an undiagnosed lymphocytic exudative pleural effusion and all clinical and roentgenographic abnormalities resolved on antimycobacterial chemotherapy. The mean age of all patients was 47 +/- 18.4 years. The 70 cases were evenly divided between 35 that were accompanied by roentgenographic pulmonary parenchymal infiltrates and 35 that occurred in the absence of parenchymal infiltrates. We conclude that cultures of all potentially diagnostic specimens (sputum, pleural fluid, and pleura) and an intermediate-strength skin test, are sensitive tests for the diagnosis of tuberculous pleural effusion. In addition, the age of patients with tuberculous pleural effusion appears to be increasing.