What is Tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis is a highly infectious disease primarily affecting your lungs. The condition is characterised by the growth of nodules (tubercles) in the tissues of your lungs.
What Causes Tuberculosis?
A bacterium named Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes TB. There are different varieties of TB strains with some being resistant to even medication.
Types of Tuberculosis
There are two types of tuberculosis.
- Latent TB: Here, the bacteria causing TB will be inactive and causes no symptoms. Though not contagious, latent TB needs to be treated as it can turn into active TB and spread to others.
- Active TB: It is known to make you sick and can spread to others. Active TB can occur in a few days following the bacterial infection or might occur a few years later.
How does Tuberculosis Spread?
The bacterium causing TB spreads from an infected person to you or vice versa through microscopic droplets released into the air via coughing, sneezing or speaking. Once in the air, the bacterium easily enters the new host through inhalation.
Who is at Risk of Developing Tuberculosis?
Though anyone can get TB, certain factors can increase your risk of getting the disease. If you are using tobacco or alcohol or misusing drugs over a long time period, then you are more likely to get active TB.
You are also at risk if you have:
- Kidney disease in the last stage
- Weak immune system / HIV
- Certain cancers
- Used chemotherapy
- Used drugs to treat other chronic diseases
- Been homeless or in prison
- Been travelling to regions where TB rates are high
Symptoms of Tuberculosis
TB is known to stay dormant for years before developing into active TB. People with a good immune system can harbour TB bacteria but may not experience or express any symptoms.
However, if you have active TB, you will show the following symptoms:
- Coughing up blood or sputum (phlegm)
- A cough that persists beyond three weeks
- Pain when coughing or breathing
- Fatigue, night sweats, and fever
- Appetite loss and weight loss
Once you show the symptoms of TB, your doctor will conduct several tests to confirm the condition. They include:
- Skin test: This test will tell whether you have a TB infection, but not whether the TB is active.
- Blood test: Your doctor follows up on the skin test with a blood test. Again, it does not indicate if you have active TB.
- Chest X-ray: In case your skin and blood tests are positive, you will be taken for a chest X-ray. A positive result is an indication that you have active TB.
- Sputum or mucus test: Here, your doctor will extract sputum or mucus from deep inside your lungs and check for bacteria. If positive it means you have active TB and can infect others.
Your doctor may go for other tests such as a CT scan of the chest, bronchoscopy, or lung biopsy, if the results from the tests mentioned above are unclear.
Complications Due to Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, if left untreated, can be fatal. It can spread to other parts of your body through your bloodstream and may result in complications such as:
- Spinal pain
- Joint damage
- Swelling of the membranes covering your brain (meningitis)
- Liver or kidney problems
- Heart disorders
Treatment for Tuberculosis
If you have active TB, your treatment includes a combination of medications for six to nine months. The treatment must be fully completed, or else, the condition is highly likely to recur. If that happens, it may show resistance to previous medications and it will be difficult to treat it again. Therefore, you must get yourself properly treated if you are diagnosed with active TB.
You can prevent yourself from getting active TB by taking the following precautions:
- Avoid people/crowds that are still contagious
- Cover your mouth whenever somebody sneezes or coughs
- Wear a mask if you are in a TB risk zone
- Complete your entire course of medication if you are diagnosed with latent TB
- Get vaccinated if there is a risk of TB where you stay
Please remember that prevention is better than the cure.