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What Is Tuberculosis (TB)?

Tuberculosis caused 1.5 million deaths in 2013 alone. Learn the symptoms and treatment of one of the deadliest, most contagious diseases in the world.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
4-minute read
Episode #171

Diagnosis of TB

Those diagnosed with latent TB often discover their carrier status via two possible ways:

  1. A skin test called a PPD (stands for Purified Protein Derivative). You've probably had this test at some point in your life. A small piece of the TB bacteria protein is injected underneath the skin surface of the forearm.  Those who have been previously exposed to TB (with latent TB) will form a swelling/red reaction at the site of the injection (from the immune system attacking that piece of protein that it’s seen before). 

  2. A blood test

Active TB is often confirmed with a chest x-ray and/or culture testing done on the sputum (phlegm) produced in patients with suspected TB or a persistent cough.

Treatment of TB

For those with latent TB, the drug called “Isoniazid” (INH) is first-line and can reduce the risk of reactivation of TB later in life by 60-90%.  The better you are at taking the drug exactly as prescribed, the more effective it is.  However, it’s a drug that needs to be taken once daily for typically 9 months and like other medications, is not without risk. Potential side effects are:

  • Liver toxicity:  The risk of liver injury is low (1 in 1000), however, and further diminished by avoiding alcohol and Tylenol during the length of treatment.  Your doctor may need to monitor you for signs of liver toxicity on a monthly basis throughout the treatment. These signs include:  diminished appetite, jaundice, severe fatigue, nausea or vomiting, dark urine, rash, tingling or numbness of hands or feet, fever, abdominal pain, easy bruising or bleeding, and generalized weakness.

  • Peripheral neuropathy:  This occurs in about 2% of those taking INH and typically starts with tingling or numbness sensations in the hands or feet. It's greatly reduced if Isoniazid is taken with 25 to 50 mg a day of Vitamin B6.

For those with active TB, treatment often includes a combination of drugs and isolation until the patient produces normal sputum cultures that turn out negative for TB.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

Doctor examining x-ray image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.