Tuberculosis: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Tuberculosis (TB) is one of the deadliest infectious diseases worldwide which is caused by bacteria. It usually infects the lungs but it can affect any organ of your body like the brain, bone, liver, or anything. The disease is airborne as bacteria get transferred from one person to another through the air causing symptoms like a cough, night sweats, fever, etc. It can affect any age group but young adults acquire this infection more easily. According to the World Health Organization, every year 9 million people acquire TB infection and according to one of their reports, about 1.8 million people died from this disease in 2015.

Types of TB infection

 There are two forms of TB infection as determined on the basis of the activity of bacteria and symptoms.

  • Active TB infection: The patient is symptomatically active as the bacteria are active and the patient has the potential to spread the infection to others.
  • Latent TB infection:  The bacteria are said to be latent means they are inactive and the person neither shows any symptoms nor he can transmit the infection to others. But it has the potential to become active on its own. Studies show that there are 10 % chance of a latent TB infection to become active and immunocompromised people have an even greater chance.

Symptoms of Active TB infection

The symptoms when TB affects the lungs are as follows

  • Fever
  • Prolonged coughing- blood can be present in the worst cases
  • Appreciable loss of weight
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Night sweats
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

Diagnosis of Tuberculosis 

The physician will take your history of symptoms and order some tests to confirm the diagnosis-

  • Physical examination: The physician will listen to your lungs sounds and would check for swollen lymph nodes (lymph nodes are not appreciable in a healthy person). Swollen lymph nodes indicate that some active inflammation is somewhere near it.
  • PPD tuberculin test: A component of TB bacteria is injected into the skin and looked for redness and hardness. This test will only tell you the presence of infection, it will not exactly differentiate between active and latent TB.
  • Sputum culture: A sputum sample of the patient is sent to a microbiology laboratory to check the presence of TB bacteria and also to determine which drugs are sensitive against it.
  • Chest X-ray: If the person has a TB infection, then x-ray might show some opaqueness which indicates the site of infection

Treatment of Tuberculosis

In most of cases, TB is cured only when the right type of medication is given for the right period of time.

Therefore, the type of drug therapy and duration for the treatment depends upon

  • Person age, weight, health
  • Site of TB infection (lungs, brain, bone, kidneys, etc.)
  • The resistance of TB bacteria to different drugs

DOT (directly observed therapy) is a program under which a healthcare worker ensures that the drugs course is strictly followed by the patient because in general patients stop taking medicine as soon as symptoms disappear but later the remaining bacteria causes more severe and multidrug resistance infection

Adverse effects of Anti-tubercular drugs

These drugs have a lot of tolerable side effects but some people develop some adverse effects which are life-threatening and should immediately to be reported to the physician-

  • Jaundice  As these drugs are toxic to the liver.
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Loss of appetite even if the patient is continuously taking prescribed medications.

Prevention of Tuberculosis

TB has a high prevalence rate worldwide because these prevention measures are not strictly followed by public and hospital administrations-

  • The infected patient must use the mask so that he transmits less of his bacteria to others
  • The room of TB patient must be isolated and the vent supply of the room must be separated from other rooms.
  • TB vaccine– in some highly prevalent countries like India TB vaccine is given to children but its efficacy is not 100%.

Complications of Tuberculosis

Without treatment, TB can become fatal. It can spread through blood from lungs to other organs like the brain, bone, kidney, liver where it shows up as-

  • Brain – It causes inflammation of meninges (coverings of brain) causing a headache.
  • Bone – It causes the destruction of bone resulting in pain
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Heart-related complications.