Bacterial Infection DiseaseDisorders and Diseases

Tuberculosis (TB): Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

What is Tuberculosis (TB)? Meaning, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Complications, Prevention and Treatment of Tuberculosis (TB)...

What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a potentially dangerous bacterial disease, which affects the lungs and is caused by an organism called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB is highly contagious and spreads from person to person through the air.

Tuberculosis (TB) is the second leading cause of infectious mortality in the world, after HIV, and results in over 1 million deaths per year. TB often develops in crowded conditions.

Around 10 per cent of infected people develop active Tuberculosis (TB) in their lifetimes and  If not treated properly or left untreated, it can be fatal.

Tuberculosis was once called consumption, is a highly infectious disease which primarily affects the lungs.

According to the WHO (World Health Organization), it’s amongst the top 10 causes of death worldwide, responsible for the death of 1.7 million people in 2016.

It is most common in developing countries, but according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), around 9,000 cases were reported in the United States in 2016.

Tuberculosis (TB) is generally preventable and curable under the right conditions.

What are the symptoms of tuberculosis? 

symptoms of tuberculosis - signs of TB infection disease

Signs and symptoms of active Tuberculosis (TB) include:

  • Fever
  • Coughing that lasts three or more weeks
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain, or pain with breathing/coughing
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Night Sweats
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen lymph nodes

How does tuberculosis occur?

When a patient suffering from tuberculosis (TB) sneezes, coughs, laughs or spits, they spread the TB germs into the air. Any individual nearby inhaling the air with the germs can get infected.

Once the TB bacteria enter a person’s system they concentrate and grow gradually in areas of the body that have lots of blood and oxygen. Hence, they are almost always found in the lungs.

The incubation period can be varying from about 2 to 12 weeks. A person may remain contagious for a quite long time until the viable TB bacteria are present in sputum and can remain contagious until they have been on appropriate therapy for several weeks.

The TB bacteria can cause cavities to form in the lungs. Because of the cavities, bleeding may occur in the lungs.

These pockets or cavities can also become infected with other bacteria and abscesses or pockets of pus may form as a result.

TB infection of the lungs is called Pulmonary TB. Pulmonary TB infection is highly contagious. However, tuberculosis (TB) can also spread to other parts of the body. This type of TB is called Extrapulmonary TB.

 Pulmonary tuberculosis TB symptoms

Extrapulmonary tuberculosis symptoms


    Simply inhaling the germs does not mean a person will develop active tuberculosis. A person’s immune system is often able to fight the infection so that it does not cause the disease. In such a case, the bacteria will be there in the body in an inactive state and cause no active symptoms of TB.

    Based on this fact we can distinguish between:

    Latent TB or Inactive TB:

    It is a condition where the bacteria present in your body but in an inactive state and cause no symptoms of TB.

    This kind of Tuberculosis (TB) infection is not contagious. At any point in time, however, based on the general health of the person this form of TB can become active.

    Therefore treatment is imperative even for cases of Latent or Inactive TB which can control the spread of TB.

    Active TB:

    In this condition, the person with the infection turns sick, experiences all the symptoms of Tuberculosis  (TB), and can also infect others.

    TB can turn active immediately after infection or it can also become active even after years later.

    Who is at high risk of tuberculosis?

    Those who are at high risk of contracting tuberculosis (TB) include:

    • A Person exposed to patients suffering from active pulmonary TB infection
    • Health care staff who serve TB patients
    • People who work in prisons, nursing homes, drug treatment facilities, homeless shelters, and healthcare facilities
    • A person living in areas which have high rates of TB
    • Infants, and young children and elderly people who have comparatively weak immune systems
    • Drug abusers mostly those who indulge in IV drug abuse
    • A person who is suffering from HIV infection
    • A person who is suffering from head and neck cancers
    • People who already infected from TB before and who were inadequately treated, especially infants and young children
    • Patients who have undergone any type of transplant
    • Kidney patients
    • A person undergoing immunosuppressive therapy

    Diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB)

    For diagnosing Tuberculosis (TB) a doctor will at first perform a physical exam. Using a stethoscope doctor listens to the sounds of your lungs make when you breathe, and he will also check your lymph nodes.

    Depending on his primary observation he might ask you to go for:

    A skin test:

    The skin test involves injecting a substance called PPD tuberculin just below the skin of your inside forearm. After 48 to 72 hours, if you have TB, there will be a noticeable, red, hard swelling at the injected site.

    Blood tests:

    Blood tests help to rule out the presence of TB bacterium in the body of the patient. These tests do not ensure that the patient has latent TB infection or he/she has progressed to active TB infection.

    A chest x-ray:

    A chest x-ray can focus the extent of damage to the lungs, and need of further diagnosis and test.

    A CT scan:

    CT scans provide more detailed images than X-rays technique. A CT scan can focus if your immune system has cordoned off any TB bacteria, or the extent of damage to the lungs in case of active TB.

    Sputum test:

    This test is performed on the mucus that comes out with a cough. It can find TB bacteria if any.

    What are the complications of tuberculosis?

    Tuberculosis (TB) can cause numerous health complications such as:

    • Back pain and stiffness
    • Joint damage because of tuberculosis arthritis especially in the hips and knees
    • Meningitis, because of swelling of the membranes that cover your brain which can cause headaches
    • Impaired liver and kidney functions, if tuberculosis spreads to the liver and kidneys
    • Heart disorders if tuberculosis infects the tissues surrounding the heart.

    This can cause inflammation and fluid collections which can, in turn, disrupt the normal functioning of the heart including heart’s ability to pump effectively. This condition is called cardiac tamponade which can be fatal.

    Treatment of tuberculosis (TB)

    It is extremely important that you follow the treatment religiously if you suffer from Tuberculosis (TB). Treating TB can be a lengthy process compared to other bacterial infections.

    Depending on patient’s overall health, age, possible drug resistance, the form of TB (latent or active) and the location of the infection in the body, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics which you may need to take for up to 9 months.

    Some short-term treatments (up to 4 months) are also available nowadays. You need to consult your doctor for more information about what treatment suits you better.

    The full treatment course should be completed. Otherwise, it’s highly likely a Tuberculosis (TB) infection could come back.

    The most common combinations of medications for active TB disease treatment include:

    • Isoniazid
    • Ethambutol
    • Pyrazinamide
    • Rifampin
    • Rifapentine

    These specific medications can affect your liver, so people taking Tuberculosis (TB) medications should be aware of liver-injury symptoms, such as:

    • Appetite loss
    • Dark urine
    • Fever lasting longer than 3 days
    • Unexplained nausea and vomiting
    • Jaundice, and yellowing of the skin
    • Abdominal pain

    How can tuberculosis (TB) be prevented?

    Many people in high-risk regions around the globe receive TB vaccinations as children. This vaccine is called Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, or BCG, and protects against only a few TB strains. The vaccine isn’t generally given in the United States.

    Having the TB bacteria doesn’t always mean you’ll have symptoms of active TB. If you do have the TB infection and don’t show symptoms, you likely have latent TB. The doctor may recommend a shorter course of antibiotics treatment to keep it from developing into active TB disease.

    Some of the medications for latent TB include isoniazid, rifampin, and rifapentine, which may need to be taken for 3 to 9 months, depending on the medications and combinations used.

    A person who has been diagnosed with active TB should avoid crowds until they are no longer contagious.

    According to World health organization, people with active TB can infect 10 to 15 people through close contact per year if they don’t take proper precautions.

    People who have an infection with active TB should wear a surgical mask, known as a respirator, to keep TB particles from spreading in the air.

    Conclusion for TB

    Treatment for tuberculosis (TB) can be successful if the person takes all the medication as directed and has access to proper medical care.

    If the infected person has other diseases, it can be difficult to treat active TB. For example, HIV affects the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight off TB and other related infections.

    Generally, early diagnosis and treatment, including a full course of antibiotics, increase the chance for curing TB.

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