Disease at a Glance: Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (or TB as it is commonly called) is a bacterial infection that usually attacks the lungs but can affect other parts of the body like the spine, brain, kidney, bones & joints, etc. TB is also called Koch's Disease, named after Robert Koch who discovered Tuberculosis Bacillus in 1882.


The disease is contagious, spreading through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Bear in mind that not everyone who inhales these bacteria-infested air droplets ends up having the disease. Our immune system is geared to fight the bacteria and stop it from multiplying, thereby preventing the disease. Only when the immune system is weak and cannot fight the infection, does the disease occur.


There can be various reasons why the immune system may be compromised and, therefore, cannot protect the body against mycobacterium tuberculosis (the bacteria which causes TB). This may be because of a medical condition (like HIV/AIDS, certain cancers, etc.) or a result of malnutrition / general debility or due to substance abuse, etc.


Common Symptoms 

Lungs: Persistent cough with sputum, chest pain, difficulty breathing
Spine: Back Pain 
Kidney: Blood in the urine 
Brain: Severe headache, nausea & vomitting, sensitivity to light
General Symptoms: Fever, chills, night sweat, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, etc.


TB symptoms depend on which part of the body is infected. When it occurs in the lungs (the medical term is pulmonary tuberculosis), the symptoms include a persistent cough with sputum that last for more than 3 weeks, fever & fatigue, chills, night sweat, loss of appetite & weight-loss, difficulty breathing, chest pain, etc. Because the early symptoms of tuberculosis are vague and non-specific, they often go unnoticed.


Symptoms of tuberculosis occurring in other parts of the body depend on the area or organ affected. For example, back pain is the most common symptom of spinal TB. Similarly, blood in the urine could be a sign of renal tuberculosis. When mycobacterium tuberculosis spreads to the brain and affects the tissue covering it (the medical term for this is tuberculous meningitis), symptoms like severe headache, nausea & vomiting and light sensitivity may occur.


Tuberculosis is diagnosed via a skin test (also called Mantoux screening), blood test, sputum test and chest x-ray. TB can be fatal if left untreated, but the good news is that the disease has a cure. Treatment comprises a long-term regimen (often up to a year or two) of anti-tuberculosis drugs. With proper treatment most patients are able to make a full recovery. However, if tuberculosis is coupled with some other serious illnesses, the prognosis may not be so good.



1. World Health Organization (
2. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (
3. National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (
4. US National Library of Medicine (
5. Tuberculosis Control India (



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