Pulmonary Tuberculosis

What is tuberculosis? — Tuberculosis is an infection that usually affects the lungs. It is not very common in the United States. But in other parts of the world, tuberculosis is still a serious problem. Tuberculosis is sometimes called "TB."
How does TB spread? — You can catch TB from anyone who is sick with TB. The germ that causes TB can travel in the tiny drops of fluid that spray when a person coughs or sneezes. If you inhale those drops, you can get infected.
What happens if I get infected with TB? — If you get infected with TB, you probably will not get sick right away. Instead 1 of 2 things might happen:
Your body's infection fighting system, called the immune system, might kill off the germs that cause TB. If that happens, you will not get sick with TB.
Your body's immune system might be able to control the germs but not completely kill them off. This is called "latent TB." People with latent TB do not get sick right away, but they can get sick later on. People who are sick with TB have what doctors call "active TB."
What are the symptoms of active TB? — The symptoms of active TB can include:
A cough that lasts a long time
Sweating at night
Losing weight without trying to
Should I see a doctor or nurse? — See your doctor or nurse if:
You have been near someone who was sick with TB
You have a cough that has lasted longer than 3 or 4 weeks and does not seem to be getting better
You have other symptoms of TB, such as fever, sweating at night, and unexpected weight loss
Is there a test for TB? — Yes. There are 2 tests for TB, a skin test and a blood test:
Skin test – For this, your doctor or nurse gives you a shot in your arm. The shot contains tiny pieces of the dead TB germ. Then, 2 or 3 days later, your doctor or nurse will look at the spot where you got the shot to see if there is a bump, and how big the bump is. Only a doctor or nurse can tell whether the bump from a TB test is positive or negative.
Blood test – A blood test for TB is available in many areas, but not everywhere.
Your doctor or nurse will decide which test is best for you. The choice depends on your risk of getting active TB.
What if my TB test is positive? — If your TB test is positive, you will probably need treatment.
How is TB treated? — The treatment depends on whether you are sick:
People who are not sick and have latent TB must take medicine for 3 to 9 months.
People who are sick with active TB must take 4 different medicines every day for at least 2 months. After that, some people can go down to 2 medicines, but all people must keep taking some medicines for another 4 months. That means that treatment for active TB lasts at least 6 months total. People need to start with 4 medicines in case 1 or more of them stops working.
If your doctor or nurse gives you medicine to treat TB, it is very important that you take it all. If you do not take all your medicine, you could get sick with TB, or the medicine could lose its effect. If the medicine loses its effect, the infection can become even harder to treat.
The medicines used to treat TB can cause liver problems. While you are taking these medicines, you should not drink alcohol or take acetaminophen (sample brand name: Tylenol). Tell your doctor or nurse if you have signs of liver problems. These include:
Feeling very tired
Nausea or vomiting
Having no appetite
Dark-colored urine
Jaundice, which is when the skin or white part of the eyes turn yellow
Belly pain
Itchy skin
TB is a serious disease. It can lead to death. That's why it's so important that you take treatment very seriously.
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 30, 2020.
Topic 15485 Version 7.0
Release: 28.2.2 - C28.105
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