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TB spreads when a person who has active disease exhales air that contains TB-causing bacteria and another person inhales the bacteria from the air. These bacteria can remain floating in the air for several hours. Coughing, sneezing, laughing, or singing releases more bacteria than breathing. In general, after 2 weeks of treatment with antibiotics, you cannot spread active pulmonary TB to other people.

Skipping doses of medicine can delay a cure and cause a relapse. In these cases, you may need to start treatment over. Relapses usually occur within 6 to 12 months after treatment. Not taking the full course of treatment also allows antibiotic-resistant strains of the bacteria to develop, making treatment more difficult. Without treatment, active TB can cause serious complications, such as:. Active TB in parts of the body other than the lungs extrapulmonary TB is not spread easily to other people. You take the same medicines that are used to treat pulmonary TB.

You may need other treatments depending on where in your body the infection is growing and how severe it is. People are at increased risk of infection with tuberculosis TB when they:. People who have an infection that cannot spread to others latent TB infection are at risk of developing active TB if they:.

Call your doctor immediately if you have:. Your family doctor or general practitioner can help you find out if you have tuberculosis TB. For treatment of active TB, which can be spread to others, or to treat complications of TB, you may be referred to:. To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment. Doctors diagnose active tuberculosis TB in the lungs pulmonary TB by using a medical history and physical examination, and by checking your symptoms such as an ongoing cough, fatigue, fever, or night sweats.

Doctors will also look at the results of a:. Diagnosing TB in other parts of the body extrapulmonary TB requires more testing. Tests include:. You may also have a blood test for hepatitis. During treatment, a sputum culture is done once a month—or more often—to make sure that the antibiotics are working.

You may have a chest X-ray at the end of treatment to use as a comparison in the future. You may have tests to see if TB medicines are harming other parts of your body. These tests may include:. Public health officials encourage screening for people who are at risk for getting TB. Doctors treat tuberculosis TB with antibiotics to kill the TB bacteria. These medicines are given to everyone who has TB, including infants, children, pregnant women, and people who have a weakened immune system. Health experts recommend: footnote 1 , footnote 5. Treatment is recommended for anyone with a skin test that shows a TB infection, and is especially important for people who:.

Treatment for tuberculosis in parts of the body other than the lungs extrapulmonary TB usually is the same as for pulmonary TB. You may need other medicines or forms of treatment depending on where the infection is in the body and whether complications develop. You may need treatment in a hospital if you have:. If treatment is not successful, the TB infection can flare up again relapse. People who have relapses usually have them within 6 to 12 months after treatment. Treatment for relapse is based on the severity of the disease and which medicines were used during the first treatment.

Active tuberculosis TB is very contagious.

Tuberculosis - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic

But this vaccination is almost never used in North America because:. Home treatment for tuberculosis TB focuses on taking the medicines correctly to reduce the risk of developing multidrug-resistant TB. During treatment for TB, eat healthy foods and get enough sleep and some exercise to help your body fight the infection. If you are losing too much weight, eat balanced meals with enough protein and calories to help you keep weight on.

If you need help, ask to talk with a registered dietitian. Because TB treatment takes so long, it is normal to:. Your doctor or health department can help you find a counsellor or social worker to help you cope with your feelings. Several antibiotics are used at the same time to treat active tuberculosis TB disease. For people who have multidrug-resistant TB, treatment may continue for as long as 24 months. These antibiotics are given as pills or injections.

TB disease that occurs in parts of your body other than the lungs extrapulmonary TB usually is treated with the same medicines and for the same length of time as active TB in the lungs pulmonary TB. But TB throughout the body miliary TB or TB that affects the brain or the bones and joints in children may be treated for at least 12 months. Corticosteroid medicines also may be given in some severe cases to reduce inflammation. They may be helpful for children at risk of central nervous system problems caused by TB and for people who have conditions such as high fever, TB throughout the body miliary TB , pericarditis , or peritonitis.

One antibiotic usually is used to treat latent TB infection, which cannot be spread to others but can develop into active TB disease. The antibiotic usually is taken for 4 to 9 months. Or more than one antibiotic may be taken once a week for 12 weeks. For this treatment, a health professional watches you take each dose of antibiotics. Taking every dose of antibiotic helps prevent the TB bacteria from getting resistant to the antibiotics. Multiple-drug therapy to treat TB usually involves taking four antibiotics at the same time.

Testing for tuberculosis

This is the standard treatment for active TB. If you miss doses of medicine or you stop treatment too soon, your treatment may go on longer or you may have to start over. This can also cause the infection to get worse, or it may lead to antibiotic-resistant infections that are much harder to treat. Taking all of the medicines is especially important for people who have an impaired immune system. They may be at an increased risk for a relapse because the original TB infection was never cured.

Surgery is rarely used to treat tuberculosis TB. But it may be used to treat extensively drug-resistant TB XDR-TB or to treat complications of an infection in the lungs or another part of the body. Surgery has a high success rate, but it also has a risk of complications, which may include infections other than TB and shortness of breath after surgery.

Surgery sometimes may be needed to remove or repair organs damaged by TB in parts of the body other than the lungs extrapulmonary TB or to prevent other rare complications, such as:. Author: Healthwise Staff. Medical Review: E. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Learn how we develop our content. To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated. Top of the page. Topic Overview What is tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis - causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment & pathology

Tuberculosis is either latent or active. Latent TB means that you have the TB bacteria in your body, but your body's defences immune system are keeping it from turning into active TB. This means that you don't have any symptoms of TB right now and can't spread the disease to others. If you have latent TB, it can become active TB. Active TB means that the TB bacteria are growing and causing symptoms. If your lungs are infected with active TB, it is easy to spread the disease to others. How is TB spread to others? Who is most at risk for TB? This includes people who: Have HIV or another illness that weakens the immune system.

Have close contact with someone who has active TB, such as living in the same house as someone who is infected with TB. Care for a patient who has active TB, such as doctors or nurses. Live or work in crowded places, such as prisons, nursing homes, or homeless shelters, where other people may have active TB. Have poor access to health care, such as homeless people and migrant farm workers. Misuse of drugs or alcohol.

What are the symptoms? Symptoms of active TB may include: A cough that brings up thick, cloudy, and sometimes bloody mucus from the lungs called sputum for more than 2 weeks. Tiredness and weight loss. Night sweats and a fever. A rapid heartbeat. Swelling in the neck when lymph nodes in the neck are infected. Shortness of breath and chest pain in rare cases. How is TB diagnosed?

How is it treated? What is extrapulmonary TB? What causes TB? How is it spread to others? When should I call a doctor? Can a test detect TB early? How common is TB? Being diagnosed: How is active TB diagnosed? How is latent TB diagnosed? Getting treatment: How is active TB treated? How is latent TB treated? What medicines are used to treat TB? When is surgery used? How can the spread of TB be prevented? What are the complications?

Cause Tuberculosis TB is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis , slow-growing bacteria that thrive in areas of the body that are rich in blood and oxygen, such as the lungs. Symptoms If you have latent tuberculosis TB , you do not have symptoms and cannot spread the disease to others. Symptoms of active TB in the lungs Symptoms of active TB in the lungs begin gradually and develop over a period of weeks or months.

Common symptoms include: A cough with thick, cloudy, and sometimes bloody mucus from the lungs sputum for more than 2 weeks. Fever, chills, and night sweats. Fatigue and weakness. Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss. Shortness of breath and chest pain. Symptoms of active TB outside the lungs Symptoms of TB outside the lungs extrapulmonary TB vary widely depending on which area of the body is infected.

What Happens Tuberculosis TB develops when Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria are inhaled into the lungs. Without treatment, active TB can cause serious complications, such as: Pockets or cavities that form in the lungs. These damaged areas may cause bleeding in the lungs or may become infected with other bacteria and form pockets of pus abscesses. A hole that forms between nearby airways in the lungs.

Who gets tuberculosis?

Difficulty breathing because of blocked airways. TB can be fatal if it is not treated. Active TB outside the lungs Active TB in parts of the body other than the lungs extrapulmonary TB is not spread easily to other people. What Increases Your Risk People are at increased risk of infection with tuberculosis TB when they: Have close contact such as living in the same house with someone who has active TB, which can be spread to others. Active TB is very contagious. Are health professionals who may care for people with untreated TB.

Live or work in crowded conditions where they can come into contact with people who may have untreated active TB. This includes people who live or work in prisons, nursing homes, military barracks, or homeless shelters. Have poor access to health care, such as homeless people, migrant farm workers, or people who abuse alcohol or drugs. People who have an infection that cannot spread to others latent TB infection are at risk of developing active TB if they: Have an impaired immune system.

The immune system may be weakened in older adults, newborns, women who are pregnant or have recently given birth, and people who have HIV infection, some cancers, or poorly controlled diabetes. Take some types of medicines, such as long-term corticosteroids , biologics used to treat rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn's disease , or medicines to prevent rejection of a transplanted organ.

Have a chronic lung disease caused by breathing in tiny sand or silica particles silicosis or celiac disease. When To Call a Doctor Call your doctor immediately if you have: Symptoms such as a cough that may produce bloody mucus along with fever, fatigue, and weight loss that could be caused by tuberculosis TB. Been in close contact with someone who has untreated active TB, which can be spread to others, or you have had lengthy close contact with someone you think has untreated active TB.

Blurred vision or changes in how you see colours and are taking ethambutol for TB. Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes jaundice or you have abdominal pain and you are taking isoniazid or other medicines for TB. Call your doctor if you: Have recently had a TB skin test and you have a red bump at the needle site.

You need to have a reaction measured by a health professional within 2 to 3 days after the test. This measurement is important in deciding whether you need more tests or treatment. Have been exposed to someone who has active TB. Who to see Your family doctor or general practitioner can help you find out if you have tuberculosis TB.

For treatment of active TB, which can be spread to others, or to treat complications of TB, you may be referred to: Your local public health unit. A respirologist , a doctor who specializes in treating lung problems. An infectious disease specialist. Examinations and Tests Diagnosing active TB in the lungs Doctors diagnose active tuberculosis TB in the lungs pulmonary TB by using a medical history and physical examination, and by checking your symptoms such as an ongoing cough, fatigue, fever, or night sweats. Doctors will also look at the results of a: Sputum culture.

Testing mucus from the lungs sputum culture is the best way to diagnose active TB. But a sputum culture can take 1 to 8 weeks to provide results. Sputum cytology. Chest X-ray. Symptoms of active TB, such as a persistent cough, fatigue, fever, or night sweats. An uncertain reaction to the tuberculin skin test because of a weakened immune system , or to a previous bacille Calmette-Guerin BCG vaccination.

Rapid sputum test. This test can provide results within 24 hours. Diagnosing latent TB in the lungs A tuberculin skin test will show if you have ever had a TB infection. See a picture of a tuberculin skin test. Rapid blood tests help detect latent TB. A rapid test requires only one visit to the doctor or clinic, instead of two visits as required for the tuberculin skin test. Rapid blood tests are also called interferon-gamma release assays IGRAs.

Tests include: Biopsy. A sample of the affected area is taken out and sent to a lab to look for TB-causing bacteria. Urine culture.

What is it?

This test looks for TB infection in the kidneys renal TB. Lumbar puncture. A sample of fluid around the spine is taken to look for a TB infection in the brain TB meningitis. CT scan. This test is used to diagnose TB that has spread throughout the body miliary TB and to detect lung cavities caused by TB. This test looks for TB in the brain or the spine. Tests during TB treatment During treatment, a sputum culture is done once a month—or more often—to make sure that the antibiotics are working.

These tests may include: Liver function tests. Eye tests, especially if you are taking ethambutol for TB treatment. Hearing tests, especially if you are taking streptomycin for TB treatment. Early detection Public health officials encourage screening for people who are at risk for getting TB. Treatment for active tuberculosis Health experts recommend: footnote 1 , footnote 5 Using more than one medicine to prevent multidrug-resistant TB. The standard treatment begins with four medicines given for 2 months. Continuing treatment for 4 to 9 months or longer if needed. Tuberculosis TB , once called consumption, is a highly infectious disease that primarily affects the lungs.

This condition is known as latent TB. TB can stay dormant for years before developing into active TB disease. Active TB typically causes many symptoms that are most commonly related to the respiratory system, including coughing up blood or sputum phlegm. You may experience a cough that lasts for over three weeks and pain when coughing or with normal breathing. While TB usually affects the lungs , it can also affect other organs, such as the kidneys, spine, bone marrow, and brain.

Symptoms will vary depending on which organ is infected. For example, tuberculosis of the kidneys can cause you to urinate blood. According to WHO , more than 95 percent of all deaths related to TB cases occur in low- and middle-income countries. People who use tobacco or misuse drugs or alcohol long term are more likely to get active TB, as are people diagnosed with HIV and other immune system issues.

Other risk factors for getting active TB disease include:. Medications that suppress the immune system can also put people at risk for developing active TB disease, in particular medications that help prevent organ transplant rejection. Other medications that increase your risk of getting TB include those taken to treat:. Traveling to regions where TB rates are high also increases your risk of contracting the infection.

These regions include:. According to the Mayo Clinic , many low-income groups in the United States have limited access to resources needed to diagnose and treat TB, placing them at greater risk of active TB disease. People who are or have been homeless or in prison are at a higher risk of developing TB. A bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes TB. There are a variety of TB strains, and some have become resistant to medication.

TB bacteria are transmitted through infected droplets in the air. A person who has TB can be transmitted the bacteria via:. People with well-functioning immune systems may not experience TB symptoms, even though they are infected with the bacteria. This is known as latent or inactive TB infection. Active TB disease can make you and others sick. For this test, your doctor will inject 0. If there is a welt on your skin over 5 millimeters mm in size where the PPD was injected, you may be TB-positive. Reactions between 5 to 15 mm in size can be considered positive depending on risk factors, health, and medical history.

All reactions over 15 mm are considered positive regardless of risk factors. You doctor can use a blood test to follow up on TB skin results. The blood test may also be preferred over the skin test with certain health conditions or for specific groups of people. Blood tests results are reported as positive, negative, or indeterminate.


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If your skin test or blood test is positive, you will likely be sent for a chest X-ray , which looks for certain small spots in your lungs. These spots are a sign of TB infection and indicate that your body is trying to isolate the TB bacteria. If your chest X-ray is negative, you likely have latent TB. It is also possible your test results were incorrect and other testing may be necessary. If the test indicates you have active TB disease, you will begin treatment for active TB.

Otherwise, you will likely need to be treated for latent TB to prevent the bacteria from reactivating and making you and others sick in the future. Your doctor may also order tests on your sputum or mucus, extracted from deep inside your lungs, to check for TB bacteria. Other tests such as a CT scan of the chest, bronchoscopy, or lung biopsies may be required if other test results remain unclear.

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Many bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics for a week or two, but TB is different. People diagnosed with active TB disease generally have to take a combination of medications for six to nine months. The full treatment course must be completed. If TB does recur, it may be resistant to previous medications and be much more difficult to treat.

Your doctor may prescribe multiple medications because some TB strains are resistant to certain drug types.