Tuberculosis Symptoms: How Does It Feel To Have TB?

  • About 1/4 of the world’s population is infected with tuberculosis (TB) bacteria. But only a small proportion of these infected populations fall sick with TB, says the WHO.
  • Having a weakened immune system increases the risk of developing tuberculosis symptoms. However, HIV patients are 20 times at a high risk of developing tuberculosis symptoms.
  • Tuberculosis is a chronic contagious infectious disease that majorly affects the lungs. The infection can spread through tiny droplets during coughing or sneezing.

During its initial stage, tuberculosis infection began to increase in 1985 because of the rapid increase in HIV cases causing AIDS. This HIV virus weakens the immune system, making it easy for tuberculosis infection to enter the body easily.

How Do You Know If You Have Tuberculosis?

Apart from active tuberculosis, other forms do not show any symptoms. Therefore, the following are the signs and symptoms of active tuberculosis:-

  • Coughing for 2-3 weeks or even more
  • Coughing up blood or mucus
  • Chest pain
  • Facing difficulty or pain while breathing or coughing
  • Uncertain weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Chills
  • Loss of appetite

Additionally, tuberculosis can also affect the other parts of the body, such as the kidney, spine, or brain. Tuberculosis symptoms vary with the site of the infection. For example, if a person gets a tuberculosis infection in the spine, he may experience back pain, if it affects the kidney, the person may find blood in the urine.

What Causes Tuberculosis TB?

Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the bacteria responsible for developing tuberculosis symptoms. These bacteria spread through air droplets of the infected person when an infected person coughs, speaks, sneezes, spits, laughs, or signs.

Although, tuberculosis infection is really difficult to control as it spreads from person to person through the air droplets. Such types of infection can spread mostly through people you are living or working with rather than strangers. People with active tuberculosis can also develop symptoms, but they can be easily treated with medication for at least two weeks. After the compilation of the course, the infection no longer remains contagious.

Some health complications and drug interactions can increase the risk of developing tuberculosis symptoms, such as:-

HIV Infection(AIDS): During the 1980s, the prevalence of tuberculosis was found to be increased because of the spread of HIV, causing AIDS. Now the question is: How is TB related to HIV? 

HIV weakens the immune system, thereby decreasing the strength to fight against any other infection, especially tuberculosis symptoms. Consequently, people with HIV infection can develop tuberculosis symptoms.

Other Possible Risk Factors 

The risk of developing tuberculosis symptoms increases due to the following activity:-

  • If your friend, co-worker, or any family member has a TB infection.
  • If you live in a TB infected area or have travelled to any such places.
  • Your profession demands activities that increase the risk of TB infection.
  • People working in a hospital or nursing homes.
  • If you have a habit of smoking.
  • People working in hospitals, especially for TB patients.

Additionally, some health complications can also increase the risk of developing tuberculosis symptoms, such as:-

  • Diabetes
  • Severe kidney disease
  • Head or neck cancer
  • Side effects of chemotherapy for cancer
  • Underweight and poor nutrition
  • Organ transplant medicines
  • Medicines for rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and psoriasis

Also Read: Hydrocele: Prevalence, Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Medicines for rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes: Triamcinolone(Kenacort Injection), Linagliptin (Trajenta), Sitagliptin(Januvia).

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What Are The 3 Stages Of Tuberculosis?

In general, tuberculosis(TB) is categorized into two types, but including the rare one makes it three, such as:-

Latent TB: Also known as inactive tuberculosis, the germs remain present in the human body without showing any symptoms. The immune system prevents them from spreading, but the infection still remains present inside. In some cases, even if you do not have any symptoms and went through any of the following complications in the past 2 years, the doctor may start the medication for tuberculosis.

  • HIV infection 
  • Unusual chest X-ray
  • Weaken immune system

Miliary TB: It is a rare form of active tuberculosis that occurs when the bacterias enter the bloodstream, spreading all over the body in tiny nodules. It can affect multiple organs in one go and are rapidly fatal.

Active TB: It is an active form of tuberculosis in which the bacteria actively multiply, making you fall sick. Such an active form of tuberculosis spreads rapidly to others as well. As per the case studies, 90% of active TB cases arise from latent TB infection.

If you get active tuberculosis, be mentally prepared to make people you met aware of your infection in the last few days.

How Is Tuberculosis Most Commonly Diagnosed?

Initially, the doctor will start the diagnosis with a physical examination, such as lymph nodes for swelling, by listening to the sounds in your lungs through a stethoscope. After that, skin tests and blood tests are the most common tests for diagnosing tuberculosis.

Another different way of diagnosing TB includes injecting a small amount of tuberculin inside the forearm. Within 48-72 hours of inserting, the doctor will recheck your forearm for swelling. If a hard, raised red bump appears, the person is more likely to develop tuberculosis. The size of the bump will further determine what to do next?

In some cases, if the doctor fell the need, he may prescribe you some other tests as well. Sometimes, the skin test can show negative results and can have false-positive reports even after vaccination.

Imaging Tests: Generally, if you’ve had a positive skin test, the doctor is most likely to recommend a chest X-ray or a CT scan for further confirmation. This test indicates white spots in the lungs, indicating the areas where your immune system has walled off TB bacteria due to active tuberculosis.

Sputum Tests: If the chest X-ray shows symptoms of tuberculosis, your doctor might take samples of your sputum, and the mucus when you cough. The samples are tested for TB bacteria.

Doctor taking blood test sample of a man
Image by: Elnur

Blood Tests: This test confirms the presence of latent or active tuberculosis by measuring the effects caused due to TB bacteria.

Can Tuberculosis Go Away?

Tuberculosis can be treated easily, but it depends on the type of tuberculosis. For latent TB, the doctor may prescribe medications, and for active TB, doctors often suggest a complete course of antibiotics for at least 6-9 months.

There are other factors that doctors consider while treating tuberculosis symptoms, such as age, overall health, possible drug resistance, and the site of infection.

Patients diagnosed with latent tuberculosis are often treated with one or more types of TB medications. Whereas, people with active tuberculosis, especially a drug-resistant, will need several other medications, such as:-

  • Isoniazid
  • Rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane)
  • Ethambutol (Myambutol)
  • Pyrazinamide

People diagnosed with drug-resistant TB require a combination of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones and injectable medications, such as amikacin or capreomycin (Capastat). The complete course of this treatment covers 20 to 30 months. Noe, even some kinds of tuberculosis are developing resistance to such medications. Therefore, some drugs can be used in such resisting cases, such as:-

  • Bedaquiline (Sirturo)
  • Linezolid (Zyvox)

Possible Side Effects

All TB medications can be toxic to your liver. However, side effects of TB medications can be dangerous when they occur. In order to lower the risk of any dangerous side effects, consult the doctor and try consuming the medicines as directed. Else it will lead to the following possible side effects:-

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellow color to your skin (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Blurred vision
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Julain Carter is mental health expert for Goodrxmedicine.com. He is an experienced clinical mental health counsellor with recognition in cognitive behavioural therapy. Julian’s sharp behavioural observations reflect in both his personal and professional life.