What is tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infection that usually starts in the lungs. It is caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB spreads mainly through the air.
What increases my risk of TB?
- You live with a person who has TB.
- You live with many people in a small place.
- You are a healthcare worker in close contact with people who have TB.
- You recently visited an area where TB is common, such as Africa, Asia, or Latin America.
- You have a long-term illness such as diabetes, cancer, or kidney disease.
- Your immune system is weak.
- You share drug needles.
What are the signs and symptoms of TB?
TB can be active or latent. Active means you have TB symptoms. Latent means you do not have symptoms, but you may develop them later. You can spread TB to others even if you do not yet have symptoms. TB mostly affects the lungs, but almost any part of the body can be infected. You may have any of the following:
- A fever that lasts a long time, or night sweats
- Fatigue (more tired than usual)
- Weight loss without trying
- A cough for at least 3 weeks
- Chest or upper back pain, especially when you breathe
- Shortness of breath
- Blood in your sputum
How is TB diagnosed?
Your caregiver will do a physical exam and listen to your lungs. Tests are needed to see if you have active disease:
- Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your lungs and heart. Caregivers use it to see how your lungs and heart are doing. Caregivers may use the x-ray to look for signs of infection like pneumonia, or to look for collapsed lungs. Chest x-rays may show tumors, broken ribs, or fluid around the heart and lungs.
- Tuberculin skin test: This test is done to see if you have been exposed to the germ that causes TB. You will receive an injection into the skin of your forearm. Your skin is checked after 2 to 3 days for signs of TB.
- Blood tests: Your caregiver may order blood tests to check for TB infection.
- Sputum tests: You may need to give 3 samples of your sputum, usually first thing in the morning. Sputum tests help caregivers to see if you have a TB infection and find the best medicines to treat it.
How is TB treated?
TB is treated with antibiotic medicine for 6 to 12 months or longer. You will need to take 3 to 4 types of antibiotics for up to 8 weeks. Then you will need to take at least 2 types of antibiotics for another 18 to 31 weeks. It may be difficult, but it is important you take all the medicine that you are given.
How can I remember to take my medicines?
TB can only be cured if you take your medicines exactly as caregivers tell you. This may not be easy because you will have to take medicine for a long time. Following are some ways to remember to take your medicines:
- Get involved in the DOT program: The Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) program helps you be sure that you take all your medicines correctly. A caregiver will watch you take your medicines every day or several times a week.
- Keep a regular schedule: Take your medicine at the same time every day. Each night, put out the pills for the next day. Mark a calendar each day you take your pills.
- Create reminders: Ask a family member or friend to remind you to take your pills.
- Keep medicines in reach: Keep the pills in a place where you cannot miss them, such as the bathroom or kitchen. Be sure they are out of reach of children.
How can I help prevent the spread of TB?
- Take your medicine as directed: The most important way to prevent the spread of TB is to take your medicine correctly. If you forget to take your pills one time, skip that dose and take the next scheduled dose. Write down that you missed a dose and tell your caregiver at your next visit.
- Be careful when sick: The bacteria that cause TB are easily spread from one person to another through the air. Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Throw the used tissue away. If possible, flush used tissues down a toilet.
- Wash your hands: Always wash your hands with soap and water after you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid close contact with others: Babies and elderly people are at increased risk for TB.
- Tell others about your TB: Tell your family, friends, and coworkers that you have TB so they can follow up with a caregiver. They may have latent TB and need to take medicine to prevent it from becoming active.
Where can I find more information?
- CDC National Prevention Information Network
PO Box 6003
Rockville , MD 20849-6003
Phone: 1- 800 - 4585231
Web Address: http://www.cdcnpin.org
- World Health Organization
Web Address: www.who.int
What are the risks of tuberculosis?
Untreated TB may cause lifelong lung problems. TB may spread to your brain, bone, spine, and kidneys if it is not treated. Treatment may be more difficult if the infection has spread to other parts of your body. Untreated TB can also spread to others who can become ill.
When should I contact my caregiver?
Contact your caregiver if:
- You have a fever.
- You have a rash, nausea, or vomiting.
- The whites of your eyes or your skin look yellow.
- Your urine looks like dark tea or coffee.
- Your symptoms do not go away or get worse, even if you are taking your medicines.
- You have a cough that does not go away after 3 or 4 weeks following a cold.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
When should I seek immediate care?
Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- You have chest pain or cough up blood.
- You have trouble breathing.
- You have a fever, headache, and a stiff neck.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of the Blausen Databases or Truven Health Analytics.
The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
Learn more about Tuberculosis
Drugs associated with:
- Adrenal Tuberculosis
- CNS Tuberculosis
- History, Tuberculosis
- Ocular Tuberculosis
- Pulmonary Tuberculosis
- Tuberculosis, Active
- Tuberculosis, Urinary Tract
- Tuberculous Esophagitis
- Tuberculous Pleurisy
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