Tuberculosis (TB): Symptoms and treatment

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Tuberculosis symptoms

The symptoms of active tuberculosis disease include:

  • a bad cough that:
    • lasts longer than 2 weeks
    • makes you cough up blood sometimes
    • makes you cough up phlegm sometimes (thick liquid that comes up from your lungs or airways)
  • chest pain
  • weakness or tiredness
  • weight loss
  • a lack of appetite
  • chills
  • fever
  • night sweats

Tuberculosis mainly causes symptoms in the lungs and airways but it can also affect other parts of your body, such as your:

  • brain
  • spine
  • bones
  • kidneys
  • lymph nodes (small, bean-shaped organs found throughout the body that help the body recognize and fight germs)

About 90% of people who become infected with tuberculosis do not develop the disease. This is called latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI). They:

  • do not feel sick
  • have no symptoms
  • do not spread tuberculosis germs to others

Those who do get sick have active tuberculosis disease.

In severe cases, the disease may lead to death if untreated.

If you think you have tuberculosis

Call your health care provider if you:

  • have any symptoms
  • think you may have been exposed to tuberculosis germs

If you have pulmonary tuberculosis, you may have spread it to other people without knowing it. Your health care provider will talk with you about the people you spend time with. This will ensure they also be offered testing.

Treatment will help prevent the spread and/or worsening of the illness.

How tuberculosis is diagnosed

A skin test and/or a blood test can tell if you have tuberculosis.

For a skin test, you will have a small amount of non-infectious tuberculosis protein injected under the skin of your arm. This protein cannot spread the disease.

It can take 2 to 3 days for your skin to react to the injection for a positive result. If it is positive, you will need more tests to find out if you have the latent or active form of tuberculosis. This may include:

  • a medical examination
  • a chest X-ray
  • testing of some of your phlegm (thick liquid that comes up from your lungs or airways)

Tuberculosis treatment

Tuberculosis can be cured by taking antibiotics.

See your health care provider for treatment options.

It is important for you to take all of your antibiotics as prescribed to avoid:

  • spreading pulmonary tuberculosis to others
  • increasing your risk of getting tuberculosis again, especially a type of the disease that is harder to treat

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