Diseases & Conditions


TuberculosisCausesDiagnosisMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatment

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a fairly common, deadly and contagious disease, caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis and other strains of Mycobacterium, which mainly attacks the lungs but can spread to other organs.

Causes of Tuberculosis

All tuberculosis cases are passed between individuals when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks. Minute droplets of saliva or mucus are expelled into the air, from where they can travel and reach other people when inhaled. Once the infection causing bacteria reach the alveoli, cells known as macrophages engulf them. The bacteria can then spread to the blood stream, lymphatic system and other body organs.

The bacteria multiply in those organs that have high oxygen pressures, like kidneys, upper lobes of the lungs, meninges and bone marrow. Many of the tuberculosis infections are latent infections and asymptomatic. Only in one in cases does the infection progress to full blown disease.

Diagnosis for TB

A few tests will be conducted to diagnose tuberculosis. They include chest X-ray which may reveal abnormalities in the lower and mid lung areas and enlarged lymph nodes.

Mantoux skin test helps in identifying people who are infected but show no obvious symptoms. Quanti FERON-TB Gold Test is a blood test that helps to detect latent and active tuberculosis. Sputum testing is done to test for acid fast bacilli and this confirms a TB diagnosis.

Medications for of Tuberculosis

The standardized therapy lasts for. 6 months. In the first two months, rifater (Isoniazid, Pyrazimanide, Rifampin) is prescribed. During the next four months, rifampin (Rimactane, Rifamate and Isoniazid) are prescribed. Streptomycin and ethambutol (Myanbutol) may also be added until blood cultures reveal your drug sensitivity.

Prevention of Tuberculosis

Bacilli Calmette-Guerin (BCG) is a tuberculosis vaccine that can prevent the development and spread of tuberculosis and tuberculosis meningitis amongst children, but might not protect against pulmonary tuberculosis. BCG is not usually recommended in the United States as the risk of contracting the disease is low.

Risk Factors of Tuberculosis

  • Alcoholism
  • HIV Infection
  • Crowded living conditions
  • Low socio-economic status
  • Health care workers are at an added risk
  • Illnesses that decrease the body’s immunity
  • Migration to or from a country with a large number of cases

Symptoms of Tuberculosis

An infected person may not notice any symptom until the disease is at an advanced stage. Common symptoms such as loss of energy, loss of weight, productive cough, fever and night sweats may easily be confused with symptoms of another disease. Mycobacterium tuberculosis may be lying dormant in the body for years before it manifests as a disease.

Abnormalities can be noticed on a chest X-ray when it is taken. Pulmonary tuberculosis can go away on its own in half the cases but can reappear at a later time.

10% of those with TB related lung disease can have tuberculosis pleuritis. Patients tend to have chest pain, non productive cough and fever. Reappearance of the dormant TB infection is noticeable in the upper lungs. Symptoms for this include

  • Cough with an increase in the amount of sputum
  • Coughing up blood
  • Weight loss, fever, night sweats and loss of appetite.
  • Tuberculosis can also affect the lymph nodes, bone and joint sites, genitourinary tract, lining that covers the gastrointestinal tract, and meninges.

Treatment for Tuberculosis

Most people suffering from tuberculosis are treated outside the hospital. The health care provider will prescribe special medications which will have to be taken for 6-9 months. Medical treatment of tuberculosis takes that long as the bacterium grows and dies very slowly. Multiple medications may be prescribed to reduce the occurrence of resistant organisms.

Medications can be chosen or changed according to the lab reports. The treatment of tuberculosis involves the public health system and the local health department may supervise the administration of drugs during the course of therapy. Relatives and friends may also have to undergo chest X-rays and appropriate skin tests.