Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium named Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which affects the lungs and other organs in the body. Learn about its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment.
Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by a bacterium named Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It most commonly affects the lungs but can also affect other organs in the body. It can be prevented and treated, but sometimes it can be fatal. The bacteria that cause tuberculosis are spread from one person to another through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes.
Before the development of antibiotics and improvements in hygiene, TB was a major cause of death worldwide, more so in underdeveloped and developing countries. But after major improvements in these areas, the number of people infected with this bacteria has drastically reduced. The cases in developed countries began to rise in 1985, which was mainly due to the emergence of HIV infection. As HIV weakens the person's immune system, it leaves the body unable to fight bacteria causing TB.
Antibiotic resistance due to indiscriminate use has made most strains of this bacteria resistant to the most effective antibiotics. Such resistant cases are difficult to treat. Tuberculosis patients are treated with a combination of different antibiotics.
They are primarily classified as latent or active.
Latent Tuberculosis - The bacteria stay in the body in an inactive state and cause no ongoing symptoms but can get reactivated at a later stage causing active symptoms.
Active Tuberculosis - The bacteria are active causing symptoms and at this stage, can be contagious (spread to other people).
And depending on the part of the body affected, TB is classified into:
1) Pulmonary Tuberculosis - It is the active type of TB that involves the lungs.
2) Extrapulmonary Tuberculosis - TB that affects any body part apart from lungs. It includes:
TB lymphadenitis - TB involving the lymph nodes, mainly the lymph nodes of the neck. The symptoms include swollen and painful lymph nodes, fever, night sweats, and tiredness.
Bone TB - TB that spreads to the bones from the lungs. It causes back pain, bone deformities, swelling, and abscess.
Miliary TB - TB that spreads to multiple organs in the body.
Liver TB - Otherwise called hepatic TB, and is the type that affects the liver. It can result in fever, jaundice, and liver enlargement.
Genitourinary TB - TB that spreads to the genitourinary system, which includes the kidneys, ureter, urethra, and urinary bladder. It is the second most common type. The symptoms include pain during urination, pelvic pain, infertility, and testicular swelling.
Gastrointestinal TB - Here, the gastrointestinal tract is affected, which results in symptoms such as stomach pain, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, etc.
TB peritonitis - When the bacteria infects the peritoneum, which is the tissue that lines your abdomen. It can cause nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting.
TB pericarditis - When TB spreads to the tissue that surrounds the heart (pericardium).
TB meningitis - When TB spreads to the meninges of the brain. The symptoms are persistent headache, light sensitivity, and neck stiffness.
Cutaneous or skin TB - It is a very rare type where the skin gets affected.
Symptoms may vary:
Pain when coughing.
Pain on breathing.
Loss of appetite.
It spreads through the air. When a person with active TB infection, coughs, sneezes, talks or spits, the infected droplets containing the bacteria enter into the air and can get into a healthy person and infect them when they breathe the same air.
Although this sounds scary, it does not spread so easily to all, it takes some time and repeated exposure. For example, someone living in the same house or working at the same office as an infected person is at higher risk.
The following factors increase the risk of an individual getting TB:
Immunocompromised conditions - HIV/AIDS, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, cancer and cancer treatments, immunosuppressant drugs, malnutrition, and very young or old people.
Living in certain places - Traveling or living in underdeveloped or developing countries.
Poverty - People who have a fixed low income and no access to medical care.
Substance use - As it weakens the immune system and makes you susceptible to infections.
Healthcare professionals who come in constant contact with infected patients.
Working or living in nursing homes, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, homeless shelters, etc., can make you more vulnerable due to overcrowding.
Living with someone who has TB.
Apart from the initial skin test (Mantoux test), the more accurate tests to diagnose TB are:
- Blood tests.
- Chest X-ray.
- Sputum tests.
- CT scan, lung biopsy, and bronchoscopy may be ordered if other tests are inconclusive.
Special antibiotics are needed to treat TB. The regimen includes three or more drugs in a combination depending on your age, symptoms, and general health.
These drugs have to be taken on a long schedule of four to six months or more as these bacteria are quite resistant and not easy to clear off from the body.
It is important to complete the entire duration of the course as prescribed by your doctor. Many patients discontinue the treatment halfway when they have no more symptoms. But the bacteria would not have been completely eliminated and discontinuation can cause reactivation and relapse.
If left untreated, TB can spread and result in the following complications:
Back pain and stiffness.
Tuberculous arthritis causes joint pain and stiffness.
Severe headache and mental changes when the meninges of the brain get infected.Liver or kidney problems.
Impaired functioning of the liver and kidneys.
It affects the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently.
Prevention of Spread:
If you have an active TB infection, be sure to wear a special mask until treatment completion to prevent spread to near and dear ones. Keep away from school or work to minimize exposure to others around you. Open the windows of your room for better air circulation.
Vaccinations - Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine is used to vaccinate infants In countries where tuberculosis is prevalent. It is not effective in adults, thus contraindicated.
If you notice TB symptoms, consult a healthcare professional online at the earliest.
Tuberculosis is a completely curable and preventable bacterial infection that primarily affects the lungs. But it needs treatment with antibiotics. If left untreated, the causative bacteria can spread throughout the body in the bloodstream and can be fatal.
The bacteria that cause TB attacks the lungs and can spread to other body parts if not treated properly. If not treated, one in three people with active TB dies in the first couple of years.
When a person gets infected, they experience the following symptoms:
- Sore throat.
- Loss of appetite.
- Night sweats.
- Chest pain.
- Persistent cough.
- Unintentional weight loss.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis enters the body when you breathe in air infected by this bacteria. These bacteria reach your lungs through your respiratory tract and destroy your lung tissue, which makes you cough up bacteria. This results in the bacteria spreading to others through air.
A combination of antituberculosis drugs helps cure tuberculosis at any stage. But, the treatment becomes challenging if the person has drug-resistant tuberculosis, which is why some people die even with treatment.
You can get infected by being around a person with active tuberculosis. When an infected person coughs, talks, sneezes, or sings, bacteria get into the air. This bacteria can enter your body when you breathe and infect your lungs.
After you are infected with the TB bacteria, it might take weeks, months, or years for you to develop symptoms. The disease generally develops slowly. In some cases, people do not produce any symptoms, even if they are infected. This is called latent tuberculosis.
No, you cannot survive this infection without treatment. Treatment with drugs such as Isoniazid, Rifampicin, Ethambutol, etc., is needed to cure TB. Some patients with the drug-resistant type of TB might not even make it with treatment.
Some studies have shown that TB bacteria can be present in the lungs, even if the patient tests negative for TB. Some patients suffer from lung cirrhosis and reduced lung function even after they are completely cured of the infection.
Ginger is known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which might help people suffering from TB. You can boil water with little ginger in it and then drink it. Or you can include little ginger in your food while cooking. Always consult your doctor before taking anything new, and do not stop taking your prescribed medicines, unless suggested by your doctor.
Last reviewed at:
29 Apr 2020 - 4 min read
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