Signs and Symptoms of Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis, commonly referred to as TB, is a disease caused by a bacterium named ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ which mainly targets the lungs of the human body. Although preventable and curable, this disease is known to cause major health problems and even death of the infected individual. According to World Health Organisation (WHO), Tuberculosis caused the end of 1.6 million people worldwide in 2021. The number of people infected with the disease was almost ten times more than 10.6 million. WHO also reported that 87% of the cases came from the 30 countries with high TB burden, including Nigeria, Indonesia, Kenya, Bangladesh, and Brazil.

Not everyone carrying the TB-causing bacteria falls sick as our immune system usually prevents us from falling ill. There exists a difference between −

Latent Tuberculosis Active Tuberculosis
When Tuberculosis is inactive, it is neither symptomatic nor contagious. It is also known as Tuberculosis infection or inactive Tuberculosis. However, latent Tuberculosis can turn into active. In this case, Tuberculosis shows symptoms and is contagious. It is also known as Tuberculosis disease. People with weakened immune systems, HIV, and malnutrition are at a higher risk of being majorly affected by this disease.

Tuberculosis Mainly Spreads in two Ways

  • When an infected person sneezes, coughs, or speaks, droplets containing the TB-causing bacteria are released into the air and spread through the air when another person inhales such bacteria.

  • Tuberculosis can also spread through contaminated food or water.

Early identification and treatment can cure TB fully. Mentioned below are some signs and symptoms of Tuberculosis.

Signs and Symptoms of Tuberculosis

The signs and symptoms of TB can vary depending on the geographical location and severity of the infection. Some commonly found symptoms are as follows −

  • Constant coughing − The most common symptom of Tuberculosis is constant and persistent coughing. The cough is usually dry initially, but with time, it may produce sputum, which may be colorless or contain blood. The cough usually lasts for a duration of three or more weeks. The TB bacteria cause airway inflammation by infecting the lungs, provoking the cough reflex. This inflammation can trigger the production of excess mucus, which further increases the amount of coughing.

  • Mild fever − When our immune system identifies the presence of TB bacteria, it reacts by increasing the body's temperature to fight the infection. This mechanism causes fever, which is another very common symptom of Tuberculosis. The fever is usually mild, between 99°F and 101°F but can be higher and sometimes accompanied by night sweats.

  • Chest pain − The infection usually causes inflammation and damage to the lung tissue, as a result of which an individual faces chest pain. The pain may be felt in front, back, side and other areas of the chest. In some cases, the formation of cavities and abscesses in the lungs may also be the reason for chest pain.

  • Difficulty in breathing − A very common symptom of Tuberculosis is Dyspnea, which is difficulty in breathing. It is caused by factors like lung tissue inflammation, airway obstruction, pulmonary hypertension, or some other existing medical condition. There is a significant risk of respiratory failure in severe cases of Dyspnea.

  • Fatigue − Fatigue is a constant feeling of tiredness, weakness, and exhaustion. The main reason behind fatigue during TB is the immune response produced by the body. Tuberculosis can also affect the infected person's sleeping pattern, leading to fatigue and tiredness.

  • Swollen Lymph nodes − Small, bean-shaped structures filter lymph fluid and contain immune cells to fight infections. The TB bacteria can travel to the lymph nodes, making them swollen and tender. Swollen lymph nodes in Tuberculosis are usually present in the neck, armpits, or groin.

  • Loss of appetite − Tuberculosis can also cause inflammation and irritation in the digestive system, which causes a loss of appetite. The inflammation can also affect nutrient absorption, ultimately leading to weight loss.

  • Pain in joints − Although joint pain is not a very common symptom of Tuberculosis compared to the other symptoms mentioned, it may happen in some cases. This condition is known as TB arthritis and mostly affects the hip and knee joints. It happens when the TB bacteria travel to the joints and cause inflammation resulting in pain and swelling.

  • Headaches − Headaches occur when the bacteria reach the brain or membranes covering the brain or spinal cord; this is called TB meningitis. The headaches can be both mild and severe.

  • Night sweats − Tuberculosis is often accompanied by excessive sweating while sleeping enough to soak through clothes and bedsheets. It occurs due to the body’s immune response.

Treatment and Prevention

Along with the symptoms, one must know how to protect oneself from infection, as prevention is always better than cure. Here are some ways to prevent Tuberculosis −

  • Getting Vaccinated − A BCG vaccine is commonly used in countries with high TB rates to prevent the disease.

  • Good hygiene − Covering mouth while coughing or sneezing and regularly washing hands can help prevent tuberculosis.

  • Avoiding physical contact − Avoid contact or exposure with an infected person. If required, one must wear a mask before physically contacting the person infected.

  • Improved air ventilation − Open doors and windows enhance the airflow of a place and keep it healthy.

  • Healthy lifestyle − A healthy lifestyle containing nutritious food and regular exercise can strengthen the immune system.


If someone is facing the symptoms of Tuberculosis, it is necessary to seek medical treatment at the earliest, and the patient must not be left untreated as the disease can prove to be life-threatening.

The medical treatment for Tuberculosis usually contains dosages of antibiotics over several months. Some commonly used antibiotics are Pyrazinamide, Rifampin, and Isoniazid.

Updated on: 04-Apr-2023


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