What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that can be cured with antibiotics.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that can be cured with antibiotics.

Tuberculosis (TB) infection is caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It mostly affects your lungs but it can also affect other parts of the body including the lymph glands, brain, kidneys, bowels or bones.

Being the world’s top infectious killer disease, about 10 million people get infected with TB, and 1.5 million die from it every year. It is the leading cause of death in people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

How does TB spread?

It spreads through the air when the people infected with tuberculosis (TB) cough, sneeze or spit. If you inhale even a few germs, you may get infected.

People who have bacteria in their lungs but are not sick may have latent TB infection (LTBI). These people cannot spread the bacteria. The TB bacteria can stay inactive in their body for many years before causing symptoms in these people.

What are the symptoms of tuberculosis?

You may have tuberculosis (TB) infection if you have the following symptoms

Often, these symptoms will be mild for many months; therefore, delay in seeking care increases the risk of spreading the infection.

If you have spent time with someone who has TB, you must see your doctor. Your doctor will examine and test you for TB.


How will my disease be diagnosed by a doctor?

  • If your doctor suspects that you have tuberculosis (TB), they may send you for sputum sample testing. 
  • A rapid molecular diagnostic test is the initial test recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for people showing signs and symptoms of TB. 
  • If your doctor suspects any other non-lung TB infection, they may ask you to test samples of affected body fluid and tissues.
  • Your doctor may conduct other diagnostic tests such as sputum smear microscopy.
  • Your doctor may ask for a chest X-ray to check the size and area of the affected lungs.
  • To rule out TB in people who have no signs or symptoms, the doctor may screen people at risk by using a skin or blood test.

Can tuberculosis be cured?

Tuberculosis (TB) is 100% curable if treated with the approved four drug combination for a minimum of six months.

You will start feeling better within two to four weeks after starting treatment. However, it is very important to complete the whole course of antibiotics or; else the disease will get worse.

If you do not complete the treatment properly or do not adhere to the given treatment course, then the TB bacteria may get stronger and symptoms may resume. This is called drug-resistant TB. It is more complex and harder to get rid of and it may take longer to treat. Additionally, you will start spreading the disease again.

Your doctor or health worker at a public healthcare center may provide the information, supervision and support for your treatment adherence.

If you have TB infection but no symptoms (latent TB infection [LTBI]), you have a small chance of developing TB in the future. Therefore, you may get short-term preventive treatment (only one to three months) to stop the onset of the disease with the same drugs from your doctor after discussing the situation.


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Medically Reviewed on 9/9/2020
Medscape Medical Reference