What is Tuberculosis or TB? Causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, complications, and prevention

Tuberculosis or TB is a disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It mainly affects the lungs. However, it can also harm the spine, brain, and kidneys.

We can treat it with antibiotics. If it is left untreated, it can be serious, and even deadly.

Causes of tuberculosis

We can catch TB in the same way we catch a cold or flu, from person to person through the air. If a person with TB coughs, sneezes, or even talks, and you breathe in the air that is in front of them, you are at risk of becoming infected.

Signs and symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of TB are:

  • A feeling of weakness.
  • Weight loss.
  • A bad cough that lasts for at least three weeks.
  • You will cough up a lot of mucus (phlegm) if the TB is in your lungs. You may even cough up blood.
  • Fever and/or night sweats.

If the infection has spread to other parts of the body, the following signs and symptoms are also possible:

  • Body aches and pains.
  • Cloudy or dark urine.
  • Headaches.
  • Pain in the stomach or pelvic area.
  • Skin rash on the face, legs, and other parts of the body.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Swollen lymph nodes (glands).
  • Swollen joints.
  • Vomiting.

Active & Latent TB: If you have signs and symptoms, you have Active TB. If you have no signs and symptoms, you have Latent TB.

Diagnosis of tuberculosis

Your doctor will ask about your signs and symptoms, how long you have had them, your medical history, and carry out a physical examination.

They may also order a skin test and/or blood test. If they show that you may have TB, they will order a chest X-ray to see whether it has reached your lungs.

According to the UK’s National Health Service:

“If you have no symptoms but are at risk from TB (for example, you’ve been in close contact with someone who has TB) you may have a Mantoux test or blood tests to check if you have it.”

“A Mantoux test is a skin test where a small amount of liquid is injected under the skin in your arm. This liquid will cause a small reaction on your skin if you have TB.”

Tuberculosis (TB) - imaging showing sick man - bacteria - infected lungs

Wikipedia Commons image adapted by MedicalVocab.com.


Fortunately, tuberculosis is completely curable with medicine. It is crucial that you follow your doctor’s instructions. Do not stop taking your medications if you start feeling better, but your doctor had told you to carry on until a certain date.

The Mayo Clinic says the following about TB treatment:

“Active TB disease may be treated for four, six or nine months. Specialists in TB treatment will determine which drugs are best for you. You will have regular appointments to see if you’re improving and to watch for side effects.”
“It is important to take every dose as instructed. And you must complete the full course of treatment. This is important for killing the bacteria in your body and preventing new drug-resistant bacteria.”

Complications of tuberculosis

Here is a list of possible TB complications:

  • Lung damage.
  • Joint damage.
  • Infection and possible damage to the brain, spinal cord, bones, or lymph nodes (glands).
  • Kidney problems
  • Liver problems.
  • Uncontrolled or untreated TB can lead to death. It remains one of the leading infectious cases of death globally.

An untreated infected person is more likely to spread TB to other people.


If you live or visit an area where TB is endemic, avoid close contact with infected people. Wear a strong filtering face mark if you must be near people with TB. Avoid small spaces with bad ventilation if you know that Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria are present.

There is a vaccine called BCG, which some countries use to prevent TB. However, it is not used in most countries where the disease is rare because it isn’t 100% effective and may interfere with TB tests.

If you do not feel well and think you may have tuberculosis, see a doctor immediately.