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Tuberculosis: Causes, Signs, Stages, Diagnosis, Treatment & Prevention

Despite the medical advancements, Tuberculosis still claims many lives in India and around the world. During the 1920s, Tuberculosis was the 8th prevailing cause of death among children aged between 1 and 4. It was an extremely dreaded disease in the 19th century until there was medical progress in this field. Also called Koch’s disease, tuberculosis dates back to 8000 BC & is prevalent in tropical countries like South Africa, China, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria. In this article, we will see what is TB, TB signs, types of TB, tuberculosis causes, treatment, and preventive measures too. Because it is better to be safe than sorry. Read on…

What Is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious infection that usually attacks the lungs but this infection can also spread to other parts of the body. Among all, the most common type of tuberculosis that is encountered in India is the type that affects the lungs – which is called Pulmonary tuberculosis. The bacteria that cause pulmonary tuberculosis are spread from one person to another through tiny droplets released into the air via coughs and sneezes. We will read more about all types of tuberculosis as we go on in this article.

What Causes Tuberculosis?

We are often mistaken that TB is a result of poor hygiene and is further stigmatized because of its associations with another dreaded disease namely HIV, low social class, poverty, malnutrition, or even disreputable behavior. So what causes TB in reality? It is a clinical condition caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. It has the capacity to attack multiple vital organs, as we have already noted above. It is described as a multi-systemic infectious disease. If Tuberculosis is not treated on time, it can turn fatal. Fortunately, modern medicine is curable and also preventable today.

Why Is Tuberculosis So Dangerous?

Tuberculosis is dreadful even today because:

1) It is highly contagious which can spread through sneezing, coughing, or just through talking

2) It is capable of attacking any body part including lungs (usually), spinal cord, brain, kidneys

3) A severe case may prove fatal, when not treated appropriately

World Tuberculosis Day 2021

Every year World Tuberculosis Day is commemorated on 24th March with an intention to raise public awareness around the world regarding the destructive consequences it has on social, economic, and of course health fronts. The end goal of raising awareness is to eradicate TB from the world completely. The day is marked on the basis of the day when the discovery of the virus was first announced by Dr. Robert Koch. He opened the path towards diagnosing, curing & curbing the disease spread.

Researches across platforms and institutions report a positive drop in TB occurrences by 20-30% worldwide. However, it is still lesser than the target that was set to eradicate TB by 2020. The larger goal still remains unfulfilled and hence the theme for World Tuberculosis Day 2021 (24th March) is “the clock is ticking”.

What Are The Stages Of Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis can be classified into 3 stages:

1. Active tuberculosis:

In active tuberculosis, the individual who is carrying the organism has visibly active symptoms and can transmit the infection to other people. In this stage, the TB bacteria are rapidly multiplying and invading different organs of the body.

2. Latent tuberculosis:

In latent tuberculosis, the individual carries the bacteria but does not exhibit any symptoms at all. The reason for this that the immunity fights the bacteria and is able to suppress the infection to an extent. The individuals who are suffering from latent tuberculosis cannot transmit the illness to others.

Signs And Symptoms Of Tuberculosis

As noted above, latent tuberculosis shows no signs or symptoms.

On the other hand, signs of active tuberculosis include:

A persistent cough that lasts beyond 3 weeks

a) Coughing up blood

b) Feeling tired all the time

c) Night sweats

d) Chest pain

e) Chills

f) Fever

g) Loss of appetite

h) Weight loss

Types Of Tuberculosis:

Based on which organs are attacked, TB is classified into a few types as below:

1. Pulmonary Tuberculosis:

When the bacteria affect the lungs, it is called Pulmonary tuberculosis. Cough accompanied with phlegm which can be blood-stained and thick is a major symptom.

2. Pleural Tuberculosis:

When the bacteria affect the lining of the lung i.e. the pleura, it is called Pleural Tuberculosis. There can be an accumulation of fluid in between the two layers of the structure called pleural effusion.

3. Skeletal Tuberculosis:

When the bacteria affect the spinal column, it is called skeletal tuberculosis. It is also called Pott’s disease.

4. Brain Tuberculosis:

When the bacteria affect the brain, it is called Brain tuberculosis or tuberculous meningitis or TB meningitis.

5. Bladder and Kidney Tuberculosis:

When the bacteria affect the bladder, it is called Bladder and Kidney Tuberculosis which can lead to a condition called TB cystitis.

6. Joint Tuberculosis:

When the bacteria affect the joints in the body, it is called Joint Tuberculosis or TB arthritis.

7. Gastrointestinal Tract Tuberculosis:

When the bacteria affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract all the way from the food pipe to the last part of the bowels, it is called Gastrointestinal Tract Tuberculosis.

8. Miliary Tuberculosis:

When the bacteria affect the lung and there are multiple patches seen throughout the lungs on a chest x-ray, it is called Miliary Tuberculosis.

9. Atypical Mycobacterium Tuberculosis:

When tuberculosis infections are caused by organisms called atypical Mycobacterium such as Mycobacterium avium complex, Mycobacterium kansasii, and Mycobacterium fortiutum.

Tuberculosis Diagnosis: How Is TB Diagnosed?

Tuberculosis can sometimes be active in some individuals and in others, it can be latent. Since sometimes symptoms are vague and not very clear cut, diagnosing Tuberculosis can be quite difficult and a time-consuming process. Multiple types of tests may be necessary to diagnose TB correctly. The following tests are usually used to diagnose TB:

1) Sputum examination

2) Mantoux Test

3) Chest X-Ray

4) Blood Tests

5) Ultrasound Scan of the Abdomen

6) Urine Test

7) CT Scan of the Brain

Management & Treatment Of Tuberculosis

If diagnosed with TB, it is important to begin tuberculosis treatment immediately. There are two protocols that are usually followed for TB treatment.

1). The treatment for those people who have had no diagnosis of tuberculosis before and are taking treatment for the first time consists of a combination of drugs. This treatment includes isoniazid, rifampicin, ethambutol, and pyrazinamide which are initially given for a period of 2 to 3 months following which the number of drugs is reduced to just two or three.

2). The second category is those people who have previously received treatment for tuberculosis and are having it again. For these people, the usual course of treatment varies between 6 to 8 months. Once the treatment is concluded, further investigations may be done to ensure that there are no tuberculosis bacteria remaining in the body.

What Are The Risk Factors For Tuberculosis (TB):

There are a number of risk factors that can be responsible for the development of tuberculosis:

a) Constant exposure:

People who are constantly exposed to other people who are already suffering from TB are more prone to picking up the infection.

b) Poor sanitary conditions:

Tuberculosis generally affects people of the lower socio-economic classes because of lack of sanitary conditions and closed living spaces.

c) Drug abusers:

Drug abusers who have contracted HIV are at a greater risk for TB too.

d) Low Immunity:

Children do not have strong immunity at that age. If they get exposed to tuberculosis, their weak immune system will not be able to fight off the TB bacteria.

e) Cancer patients:

People suffering from cancer have weak immunity and are prone to developing tuberculosis.

f) Diabetes patients:

People who suffer from diabetes have altered immunity and may have an inability to fight the tuberculos.

g) Immunosuppressant medication:

Individuals who are taking certain medications that suppress their immune systems may be more susceptible to tuberculosis infection.

Tuberculosis (TB) Prevention

Hence to avoid the above risk factors, here are few simple precautions to take to prevent TB:

1. BCG vaccine or TB vaccine:

In children, the Tuberculosis vaccine is administered beforehand to prevent an infection in the future. This vaccine is called the Bacille Calmette Guerin vaccine or the BCG vaccine,

2. Avoid exposure to TB patients:

If there is someone in the family who is suffering from TB, it is important to make sure you take the right advice on how to avoid contracting the disease. Especially since those who have tuberculosis of the lungs can pass the infection on from one person to another through infected sputum.

3. Improve your immunity:

It is important to boost your immunity by eating more whole plant foods, healthy fats, and more fermented foods. Limit added sugars and engage in moderate exercise.

In conclusion, though TB is a deadly disease, it can be said that people who receive timely treatment and complete the course without missing the medications do very well. When medicines are taken as prescribed, TB can be cured. However, it is better to take precautionary steps to avoid getting infected rather than undergoing treatment for TB.

Written by Our Team