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Treating and Managing Tuberculosis

How Is Latent TB Treated?

If you have become infected with TB, but do not have the active TB disease you should get preventive therapy. This treatment kills germs that could cause problems if the disease becomes active. The most common preventive therapy is a daily dose of the antibiotic isoniazid (INH) taken as a single daily pill for six to nine months. You are not contagious if you have latent TB.

How Is Active TB Treated?

If you have an active TB disease you will probably be treated with a combination of antibacterial medications for a period of six to 12 months. The most common treatment for active TB is isoniazid INH in combination with three other drugs—rifampin, pyrazinamide and ethambutol. You may begin to feel better only a few weeks after starting to take the drugs but treating TB takes much longer than other bacterial infections. You must continue taking your medication as prescribed for the entire time your doctor indicates or you could get sick again, have a harder time fighting the disease in the future and spread the disease to others. Not completing your entire course of medication could also contribute to drug-resistant TB.

Drug-Resistant TB

Drug-resistant TB means that some drugs initially used to treat TB will no longer be able to fight the TB germs in your body. TB that is resistant to more than one drug, called multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB) is very dangerous. The treatment for this type of TB takes much longer, 20 to 30 months to complete, and you may experience more side effects.

Managing Tuberculosis

You must finish your medicine and take the drugs exactly as prescribed. If you stop taking the drugs too soon you can become sick again and potentially spread the disease to others. Additionally, by taking the drugs incorrectly, TB germs that are still alive may become drug-resistant, making it harder for you to get better next time.

While you are in treatment for active TB disease, you will need regular checkups to make sure your treatment is working. Everyone is different, but there are side effects associated with taking the medications, including:

  • Upset stomach, nausea and vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • Itchy skin, rashes or bruising
  • Changes in your eyesight or blurred visions
  • Yellowish skin or eyes
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Weakness, fatigue or fever that for three or more days

It is important to tell your doctor or TB nurse immediately if you begin having any unusual symptoms while taking medicine for either preventive therapy or for active TB disease. TB drugs can be toxic to your liver, and your side effects may be a warning sign of liver damage. If you are having trouble with tingling and numbness, your doctor may prescribe a vitamin B6 supplement while you are in treatment. It may also be possible to change TB medications if your side effects are serious.

Tips for Taking TB Medicine

If you are taking TB medicine on your own, it's important to get into a routine. Here are some ways to help you remember to take your TB medicine:

  • Take your medicine at the same time every day.
  • Each day when you take your medicine mark it off on a calendar.
  • Get a weekly pill dispenser that has a section for each day of the week. Put your pills in it.
  • Ask someone close to you to check in daily to make sure you have taken your medicine.
  • Ask your healthcare provider what you should do if you forget to take your pills.

Sometimes it is helpful to have support in sticking to the long treatment timeline. You may be offered assistance through a program called Directly Observed Therapy (DOT).  This means a healthcare worker will come to you to administer your medication and eliminate the concern of forgetting to take the treatment.

Preventing the Spread of TB

If you have active TB disease, it will take a few weeks of treatment before you can't spread TB bacteria to others. Until your healthcare provider tells you to go back to your daily routine, here are ways to protect yourself and others near you:

  • Take your medicine exactly as the healthcare provider directed.
  • When you cough, sneeze or laugh, cover your mouth with a tissue. Put the tissue in a closed bag and throw it away.
  • Do not go to work or school until your healthcare provider says it's okay.
  • Avoid close contact with anyone. Sleep in a bedroom alone.
  • Air out your room often so the TB germs don't stay in the room and infect someone else.

Finding Support

The Lung Association recommends patients and caregivers join our Living with Lung Disease Support Community to connect with others facing this disease. You can also call the Lung Association's Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA to talk to a trained respiratory professional who can help answer your questions and connect you with additional support. Ask your healthcare provider about lung disease support groups in your area, or look online for a Better Breathers Club near you.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: April 8, 2020

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