Tuberculosis (TB): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment


Tuberculosis (TB): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Tuberculosis has been one of the top diseases causing a high number of deaths globally. It is a highly infectious airborne disease that can affect a large number of people at once. However, this disease is treatable if detected early with advanced medical testing facilities. To make tuberculosis treatment accessible for everyone, health insurance companies provide coverage for Tuberculosis treatment. 

In this blog, we will learn about the signs, symptoms, causes, prevention and treatment of tuberculosis disease. 

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is a life-threatening disease that affects the human lungs. It is caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. In addition to the lungs, the bacteria can also affect your spine, brain or kidney. Tuberculosis is an airborne disease hence you can get infected by breathing contaminated air. An infected person can spread the disease by coughing and sneezing leaving the bacteria in the air.

What Causes Tuberculosis Infection?

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that is caused when you come in contact with an infected person. The following are the main causes of getting a tuberculosis infection.

  • Coming in Contact with an Infected Person - When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the bacteria is released into the air and if you are breathing in the same air, you can contract an infection.
  • Low Immunity - Anyone having low immunity has a high risk of contracting an infection. For instance, an individual with an HIV infection can contract Tuberculosis easily.
  • Smoking increases the risk of tuberculosis, the disease may reoccur or if you are undergoing treatment, smoking reduces its effectiveness.
  • Diabetes and Kidney Disease - People having Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) are at a risk of contracting tuberculosis infection because of suppressed immunity. Similarly, diabetic patients are also at a high risk.
  • Organ Transplant - There are many reported cases of the recipient getting an infection from the donor graft. This happens when the donor is from a place where TB infection is common. Many times an infection stays undetected and is passed from the donor to the recipient.
  • Air Pollution - Air pollution is also one of the major risk factors causing tuberculosis. Passive smoking, industrial smoke, burning of fuel etc. are potential hazards.
  • Pregnancy - A child born to an untreated mother is most likely to get a tuberculosis infection. Such a child often has a very low birth weight.
  • Healthcare Workers - Healthcare workers who are working with active TB patients are more likely to get an infection. 

Tuberculosis Symptoms and Signs 

Most people exposed to the tuberculosis bacteria do not get any symptoms immediately. There are 3 stages of infection;

Primary Tuberculosis Infection

This is the stage when the bacteria enter the body. Some people do not show any symptoms in this stage and some people may develop pulmonary symptoms and may have fever. Generally, people with good immune systems do not develop any tuberculosis symptoms. 

Latent Tuberculosis Infection

In this stage, bacteria is in the body but it is not active. There are no symptoms and the infected person cannot spread the disease.

Active Disease

In this stage, the bacteria is active and multiplying in your body and damaging tissues. The person will now have symptoms and will be able to spread the infection. This is the stage where the treatment should start. The bacteria reache the active stage only in people with low immunity.

Active tuberculosis causes symptoms like coughing, blood in cough, chest pain, trouble breathing, weight loss and loss of appetite, night sweats, fever, body aches and fatigue. If you suffer from these symptoms for more than 3 days, it is a tuberculosis warning sign which should not be ignored.

Types of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis not only affects lungs but other organs also. Hence broadly it can be categorised as

Pulmonary Tuberculosis - It affects the lungs and is the most common type of TB. About 87% of TB cases are of pulmonary tuberculosis.

Extrapulmonary Tuberculosis - It affects organs other than the lungs such as TB of lymph nodes, skeletal TB, miliary TB, genitourinary TB including tuberculosis in bladder, liver TB, gastrointestinal TB, TB meningitis, cutaneous TB, etc.

Tuberculosis Diagnosis

Diagnosing tuberculosis is a complicated process and involves a series of tests. A doctor first checks a patient’s history and background to see if he was exposed to the infection. Then a screening test is conducted to confirm the disease. Following tests are done if your doctor suspects a tuberculosis infection.

The Tuberculin Skin Test, also known as the Mantoux test, is performed on the upper layer of skin by injecting a bacteria-based solution. The injection site is then inspected after 48 to 72 hours. If there are red elevated lumps, it means infection is present. This is not the most accurate screening test as the results may go wrong. 

If the result of the initial screening comes back positive, the following diagnostic tests are done to detect active TB and decide the course of treatment. 

  • A biopsy of lungs or other tissues is done to spot the bacteria under the microscope.
  • A cough sample is tested in a lab to check the presence of M. Tuberculosis.
  • A blood test called interferon-gamma release assay (IGRA) tests the immune system’s response to M. Tuberculosis.
  • Molecular tests are conducted to determine the genetic constitution of the bacteria. It helps in deciding the most suitable antibiotic for the treatment.
  • Imaging tests are also done to determine where the bacteria is located. These tests are;
  • Chest X-ray is taken to check for TB symptoms in the lungs.
  • CT Scan is performed to check TB infection in the spine.
  • MRI is done to check for infection in the brain or spine.
  • Bone Scanning differentiates between the lesions caused by TB and cancerous lesions.

Treatment of Tuberculosis

Killing the tuberculosis bacteria is not easy, hence the patient needs to follow the doctor’s advice and take medication seriously to get completely treated. The treatment may last for 6 months. Latent TB patients need fewer medicines compared to active TB patients. If a patient stops taking the medicines midway through the treatment, the bacteria starts growing again and the patient may develop drug-resistant tuberculosis. 

Prevention of Tuberculosis

Avoiding contact with an infected person and keeping your immunity strong are the best ways of tuberculosis prevention. However, the following measures can be taken to prevent the spread of the disease.

  • Administration of BCG vaccine in babies and also in older children and adults who are at risk and did not take the vaccine when they were babies. The vaccine is used for the prevention of tuberculosis.
  • Patients with latent TB should be treated to avoid developing active TB cases.
  • Healthcare workers should be monitored and screened for TB infection.
  • In areas where there is a high risk of tuberculosis, UV germicidal lamps should be used to kill the airborne bacteria.
  • Use of Direct Observed Treatment (DOT) to ensure that the patient takes medicines on time and continues it till he is cured. This helps in avoiding cases of drug-resistant TB.
  • Having proper ventilation in indoor spaces.

In Conclusion

Although TB is a life-threatening disease, with early diagnosis and proper medication, it is curable. However, it is essential to ensure one gets diagnosed properly without compromising on the quality of treatment. Here health insurance plays an important role in the management of tuberculosis disease because it not only provides financial cover but also provides access to quality healthcare services and cashless tuberculosis treatment. So, check the different plans offered by Care Health Insurance Company to choose the one which best suits your needs. 

>> Read: Busting Common Myths About Tuberculosis


The above information is for reference purposes only. Kindly consult your general physician for verified medical advice. The health insurance benefits are subject to policy terms and conditions. Refer to your policy documents for more information.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Is TB a communicable disease?

Yes, TB is a communicable disease, spread through coming in contact with an infected person.

Q. What organ does TB affect?

87% of TB cases have an infection in the lungs. Other than the lungs TB bacteria also affects the brain, spine or kidney.

Q. What are the side effects of TB treatment?

Some side effects of taking TB medicines are skin rashes, bruising skin, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, loss of appetite and Jaundice.


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