Tuberculosis, or TB, is caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium. While usually a disease of the lungs, it can also affect other parts of the body. Transmitted through the air, if often comes from an infected individual’s cough or sneeze. Several diagnostic tools help identify the disease, and treatment involves use of medications including antibiotics.

Tuberculosis, or TB, is an infection caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It has been around for a long time. According to Rutgers University, Egyptian mummies from 2400 BCE showed evidence of TB in their spinal columns, and the ancient Greek scientist Hippocrates identified it as an illness called Phthisis. In more recent history, TB was once a leading cause of death in the United States.

Most think mycobacterium tuberculosis only affects the lungs. However, it sometimes spreads to the lungs, spine, kidneys, and even the brain. TB mortality rates were once quite high, but modern treatments cure many. Unfortunately, due to lax medication regimes and other factors, some strains of TB are “MDR TB”, or multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, which is much harder to treat. 

Tuberculosis is transmitted through the air, often from another’s cough, sneeze, or conversation. According to the CDC, tuberculosis symptoms include:

  • A cough lasting over 3 weeks
  • Night sweats
  • Chest pain
  • Blood in the mucus
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever and chills

People with weaker immune systems are more susceptible to TB.

For a long period, the only means of diagnosing tuberculosis was something called a Tine test, which uses an instrument with minute spikes that pricks the skin, introducing a small amount of TB antigen under the skin. Another skin test, the tuberculin skin test, or the PPD test, has a better diagnosis rate.

There are now blood tests for detecting tuberculosis. However, the CDC reports that these interferon-gamma release assay (IGRA) tests for TB infection cannot identify latent TB from active TB. Instead, they must be used as one of several tools in the diagnostic process.

Latent TB occurs when an individual has TB but exhibits no symptoms. Some refer to latent TB as “sleeping” TB. Some with latent TB may test positive for the disease, yet have a clear chest x-ray. In this stage, TB is not transmissible to others, and those with latent TB who take the right medications may stave off active infection.1 Once TB is active, it is contagious.

Latent or active, tuberculosis requires prompt treatment. With early and continual treatment over an extended period, TB is curable. Treatment sometimes last six to 12 months, and may involve multiple medications.

Treatment of latent tuberculosis generally consists of treatment with specific drugs such as isoniazid, rifampin, and rifapentine. Treating active disease is more difficult, involving additional drugs taken over a more extended period. Anyone receiving treatment for TB must keep in mind the importance of taking medications as scheduled, for the entire period prescribed. Failure to do so causes illness relapse, spread of the disease to others, and development of TB strains that are resistant to regular TB medications. The drugs required to treat resistant TB strains have much more severe side effects, and usually require a longer course of treatment.

However, for those who adhere to treatment protocols, their long-term outlook is good.




Additional Diseases Info:

Asthma infographic


alveolus air sac where gas exchange takes place.
angina chest pain.
aorta blood vessel that delivers oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle to the body; it is the largest blood vessel in the body.
apex top portion of the upper lobes of the lungs.
atrium one of the two receiving chambers of the heart.
base bottom portion of lower lobes, located just above the diaphragm.
blood pressure pressure of blood against the walls of a blood vessel or heart chamber.
bronchiolitis inflammation that involves the bronchioles (small airways).
bronchoscopy the examination of the bronchi (the main airways of the lungs) using a flexible tube (bronchoscope). Bronchoscopy helps to evaluate and diagnose lung problems, assess blockages, obtain samples of tissue and/or fluid, and/or to help remove a foreign body.
bronchus large airways; lung divides into right and left bronchi.
cardiac output total amount of blood being pumped by the heart over a particular period of time.
catheter thin, flexible medical tube; one use is to insert it into a blood vessel to measure blood pressure.
constrict tighten; narrow.
cyanosis bluish color in the skin because of insufficient oxygen.
diaphragm primary muscle used for respiration, located just below the lung bases.
diastolic pressure lowest pressure to which blood pressure falls between contractions of the ventricles.
dilate relax; expand.
dyspnea sensation of difficulty in breathing.
edema swelling due to the buildup of fluid.
endothelial cells the delicate lining, only one cell thick, of the organs of circulation.
expiration exhaling; giving off carbon dioxide.
heartbeat one complete contraction of the heart.
hyperactive describes a situation in which a body tissue is especially likely to have an exaggerated reaction to a particular situation.
hypertension abnormally high blood pressure.
hypotension abnormally low blood pressure.
inspiration inhaling; taking in oxygen.
lobectomy removal of an entire lobe of the lung.
lung volume the amount of air the lungs hold.
mean blood pressure average blood pressure, taking account of the rise and fall that occurs with each heartbeat. It is often estimated by multiplying the diastolic pressure by two, adding the systolic pressure, and then dividing this sum by three.
palpitation sensation of rapid heartbeats.
perfusion flow.
pleura membrane that covers the outside of the lung.
pneumonectomy removal of an entire lung.
pulmonary artery blood vessel delivering oxygen-poor blood from the right ventricle to the lungs.
pulmonary hypertension abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs.
smooth muscle muscle that performs automatic tasks, such as constricting blood vessels.
spirogram record of the amounts of air being moved in and out of the lungs.
syncope fainting; temporary loss of consciousness.
systemic relating to a process that affects the body generally; in this instance, the way in which blood is supplied through the aorta to all body organs except the lungs.
systolic pressure the highest pressure to which blood pressure rises with the contraction of the ventricles.
vasodilator agent that widens blood vessels.
ventilation movement of air (gases) in and out of the lungs.
ventricle one of the two pumping chambers of the heart; right ventricle receives oxygen-poor blood from the right atrium and pumps it to the lungs through the pulmonary artery; left ventricle receives oxygen-rich blood from the left atrium and pumps it to the body through the aorta.