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Tuberculosis (TB) - Topic Overview

Doctors usually find latent TB by doing a tuberculin skin test. During the skin test, a doctor or nurse will inject TB antigens under your skin. If you have TB bacteria in your body, within 2 days you will get a red bump where the needle went into your skin. The test can't tell when you became infected with TB or if it can be spread to others. A blood test also can be done to look for TB.

To find pulmonary TB, doctors test a sample of mucus from the lungs (sputum) to see if there are TB bacteria in it. Doctors sometimes do other tests on sputum and blood or take a chest X-ray to help find pulmonary TB.

To find extrapulmonary TB, doctors can take a sample of tissue (biopsy) to test. Or you might get a CT scan or an MRI so the doctor can see pictures of the inside of your body.

Most of the time, doctors combine four antibiotics to treat active TB. It's important to take the medicine for active TB for at least 6 months. Almost all people are cured if they take their medicine just like their doctors say to take it. If tests still show an active TB infection after 6 months, then treatment continues for another 2 or 3 months. If the TB bacteria are resistant to several antibiotics (multidrug-resistant TB), then treatment may be needed for a year or longer.

People with latent TB may be treated with one antibiotic that they take daily for 9 months or with a combination of antibiotics that they take once a week for 12 weeks while being watched by a health professional. Making sure every dose is taken reduces their risk for getting active TB.

If you miss doses of your medicine, or if you stop taking your medicine too soon, your treatment may fail or have to go on longer. You may have to start your treatment over again. This can also cause the infection to get worse or may lead to an infection that is resistant to antibiotics. This is much harder to treat.

TB can only be cured if you take all the doses of your medicine. A doctor or nurse may have to watch you take it to make sure that you never miss a dose and that you take it the proper way. You may have to go to the doctor's office every day. Or a nurse may come to your home or work. This is called direct observational treatment. It helps people follow all of the instructions and keep up with their treatment, which can be complex and take a long time. Cure rates for TB have greatly improved because of this type of treatment.

If active TB is not treated, it can damage your lungs or other organs and can be deadly. You can also spread TB by not treating an active TB infection.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 04, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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