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Pulmonary tuberculosis: Symptoms, causes, and treatments

Publisher/Author : Pacific Cross

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)

Pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection that involves the lungs. It may spread to other organs.

How common is Pulmonary tuberculosis?

Pulmonary TB, also known as consumption, spread widely as an epidemic during the 18th and 19th centuries in North America and Europe. After the discovery of antibiotics like streptomycin and especially isoniazid, along with improved living standards, doctors were better able to treat and control the spread of TB.

Since that time, TB has been in decline in most industrialized nations. However, TB remains in the top 10 causes of death worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with an estimated 95 percent of TB diagnoses as well as TB-related deaths occur in developing countries.

That said, it’s important to protect yourself against TB. Over 9.6 million people have an active form of the disease, according to the American Lung Association (ALA). If left untreated, the disease can cause life-threatening complications like permanent lung damage. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of Pulmonary tuberculosis?

The primary stage of TB does not cause symptoms. When symptoms of pulmonary TB occur, they can include:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Chest pain
  • Cough (usually with mucus)
  • Coughing up blood
  • Excessive sweating, especially at night
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Wheezing

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.


What causes Pulmonary tuberculosis?

You can’t get pulmonary TB by:

  • Shaking hands
  • Sharing food or drink
  • Sleeping in the same bed
  • Kissing

TB is airborne, which means you can become infected with M. tuberculosis after breathing air exhaled by someone with tuberculosis. This can be air from:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Laughing
  • Singing

The germs can stay in the air for several hours. It’s possible to inhale them even when the infected person isn’t in the room. But usually you have to be close to someone with TB for a long period of time to catch it.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for Pulmonary tuberculosis?

There are many risk factors for Pulmonary tuberculosis, such as:

  • Age: Older adults or infants
  • Weakened immune systems, for example due to HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy, diabetes, or medicines that weaken the immune system
  • Poor nutrition
  • Exposure to TB patients
  • Crowded or unclean living conditions

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is Pulmonary tuberculosis diagnosed?

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may show:

  • Clubbing of the fingers or toes (in people with advanced disease)

  • Swollen or tender lymph nodes in the neck or other areas

  • Fluid around a lung (pleural effusion)

  • Unusual breath sounds (crackles)

Tests that may be ordered include:

  • Bronchoscopy (test that uses a scope to view the airways)
  • Chest CT scan
  • Chest x-ray
  • Interferon-gamma release blood test, such as the QFT-Gold test to test for TB infection (active or infection in the past)
  • Sputum examination and cultures
  • Thoracentesis (procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lining of the outside of the lungs and the wall of the chest)
  • Tuberculin skin test (also called a PPD test)
  • Biopsy of the affected tissue (done rarely)

How is Pulmonary tuberculosis treated?

The goal of treatment is to cure the infection with medicines that fight the TB bacteria. Active pulmonary TB is treated with a combination of many medicines (usually four medicines). The person takes the medicines until lab tests show which medicines work best.

You may need to take many different pills at different times of the day for 6 months or longer. It is very important that you take the pills the way your provider instructed.

When people do not take their TB medicines like they are supposed to, the infection can become much more difficult to treat. The TB bacteria can become resistant to treatment. This means the medicines no longer work.

If a person is not taking all the medicines as directed, a provider may need to watch the person take the prescribed medicines. This approach is called directly observed therapy. In this case, medicines may be given 2 or 3 times a week.

You may need to stay at home or be admitted to a hospital for 2 to 4 weeks to avoid spreading the disease to others until you are no longer contagious.

Your provider is required by law to report your TB illness to the local health department. Your health care team will ensure that you receive the best care.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage Pulmonary tuberculosis?

It can be difficult to avoid contracting TB if you work in an environment frequented by people with TB or if you’re caring for a friend or family member with TB.

Following are a few tips for minimizing your risk for pulmonary TB:

  • Provide education on preventing TB like cough etiquette.
  • Avoid extended close contact with someone who has TB.
  • Air out rooms regularly.
  • Cover your face with a mask that is approved for protection against TB.

Anyone exposed to tuberculosis should be tested, even if they show no symptoms.

People with latent TB aren’t contagious and can go about their day-to-day lives as usual.

But if you have pulmonary TB disease, you need to stay home and avoid close contact with others. Your doctor will tell you when you’re no longer contagious and can resume a regular routine.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you. Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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