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Overview of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) is a serious infection that affects your lungs. The bacteria are spread through droplets released into the air from sneezing or coughing. Some strains of tuberculosis are not treated with medication, as they have built up a tolerance to them.

Tuberculosis Symptoms

There are two types of tuberculosis: latent and active. Latent TB is when the bacteria stays in your body but causes no symptoms. It can turn into an active, so treatment is still important. Active TB makes you very sick and can be easily spread to others. Some symptoms include: coughing that will last for more than 3 weeks, coughing up blood, loss of appetite, chills, night sweats, chills, chest pain, weight loss, fever, and fatigue. This illness can also affect other organs, such as the kidneys, brain, or spine.

Schedule a time to see your physician immediately if you experience a fever, persistent cough, weight loss, or night sweats. You should be screened for latent TB if you have been around people with human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV) / acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), health care workers who work with people at risk for TB, people who are around infected individuals, or intravenous therapy (IV) drug users.

Tuberculosis Causes

TB is a disease that is spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing. It is very contagious, but it is not easy to catch. This is because you are likely to get it from someone that you live or work with rather than from a stranger. TB has been spreading since the introduction of HIV and AIDS in the 1980s.

Another cause of TB is that most strains of bacterium have become resistant to the drugs that physicians usually prescribe to fight them. Since the first antibiotics are nearly 60 years old now, our bodies have built up a resistance to them. This is also passed on to the next generations. When the antibiotics do not kill all the bacteria that are associated with TB that is when the next strain shows up.

Tuberculosis Risk Factors

While anyone can contract TB, there are certain factors that will increase the chance of you contracting TB. If you have a weakened immune system for any reason, then your body will not be as likely to fight off TB. Any of the following can be a reason that your immune system may be weakened: young age, old age, some drugs, cancer treatments, cancer, kidney disease, HIV, AIDS, and diabetes.

There are also a few places that you may travel to that may expose you to TB as well. These places include: the Caribbean islands, Africa, Asia, Russia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe.

If you have a lack of medical care, live in a remote area, or have recently migrated to the United States, then you may be more at risk for TB. This is because you do not have the resources available to properly treat this disease. You are also at a higher risk for contracting TB if you use tobacco, drugs, or alcohol.

Where you work and live also plays a big role in your health too. If you work in the health care field, and are frequently around people that have TB, then you may run the risk of also contracting TB. The same is for those who live and work in a care facility or refugee camp.

Tuberculosis Complications

Tuberculosis can be fatal if not treated properly. When left untreated, the problems are typical with your lungs, and can spread to other parts of your body through your bloodstream. Some other complications include: spinal pain, heart disorders, liver problems, kidney problems, meningitis, or joint damage.

Tuberculosis Prevention

Prevention is the first step of treatment. If you test positive for the latent type of TB, then your physician may also recommend medications to treat these symptoms before they appear. If you have active TB, then you must protect your friends and family from contracting this too. Be sure to stay at home, ventilate your room, wear a mask, or cover your mouth. When your physician recommends a medication, be sure to complete the whole course of medication. In some places, infants are given a TB vaccination. If this is offered, be sure to take it.

Tuberculosis Diagnosis

The first step to a proper diagnosis is to complete a physical exam with your physician. During this physical exam, your physician will listen to your lungs and will check your lymph nodes for swelling. The most common tool for TB to test is a small skin test. A small amount of the PPD tuberculin is placed under the skin. This test does not hurt. Within 2-3 days of your test, you will want to go back to your physician and have them read the test. There should be no swelling at the injection location, and if there is, your physician will be able to tell if the results are significant.

A skin test is not always completely accurate. In some cases, a blood test will be necessary. These blood tests will be able to tell how your immune system will react to the TB bacteria. Some people prefer the blood test because only one office visit is necessary.

If you have a positive skin test, then your physician will want to have a chest x-ray or CT scan to see a better picture of the lungs. If the chest x-ray or CT scan comes back positive, then your physician will want to test the mucus that you cough up.

Tuberculosis Treatment

Medications are the beginning of treatment in most cases. TB takes a much longer time to get over, and it is essential that you finish the complete round of medication. This means that you may be on medication for up to nine months. The exact length of treatment will be dependent on your health, age, and severity of symptoms. It is also important that you take all the health tips to prevent this type of illness. If you have active TB, also be mindful to keep germs to yourself.