Signs & Symptoms of Pulmonary Tuberculosis

Pulmonary tuberculosis (TB) is an infection caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria. TB can be latent or active. With latent TB, the infection lies dormant in the body, is not contagious and the patient usually shows no symptoms. With active TB, the patient is contagious and may show symptoms. TB is treatable but is still considered a potentially serious disease and, by the Mayo Clinic's estimation, kills almost two million people each year. Rates of TB have increased since the 1980s, with HIV/AIDS and the emergence of drug-resistant strains.

  1. Lung Signs and Symptoms

    • TB primarily affects the lungs as the body forms growths, or tubercles, around the bacteria within the lung tissue. These tubercles damage the lung tissue, causing severe coughing, bloody sputum and chest pain. The coughing can last for three weeks or more, and the chest pain generally occurs with breathing or coughing.

    Systemic Signs and Symptoms

    • Because TB is a bacterial infection, the body will try to create a hostile environment to kill the bacteria. Fever is one of the body's first defenses against invading pathogens and is a common symptom of an active TB infection. Patients may also experience night sweats, chills and fatigue in association with the fever. The fever and lung symptoms can also cause a loss of appetite. If the loss of appetite continues, it can lead to weight loss.

    Unusual Signs and Symptoms

    • While TB is often thought of as a lung disease, it can affect other structures. If the bacteria spread to other areas of the body, patients may experience a variety of symptoms, depending on the structures affected. If the bacteria spread to the kidneys, patients may experience lower back pain and blood in the urine. If present in the spine, the bacteria may cause pain along the spine and headaches.

    Tuberculosis versus Other Illnesses

    • The signs and symptoms of TB can mimic other respiratory illnesses like the flu and bronchitis. It is possible for patients to have symptoms so mild that they ignore them or confuse those symptoms for something else. It is possible to have active TB and have no symptoms at all. People at risk for TB--such as healthcare workers and those with HIV/AIDS---and those who suspect they may have TB should consult a physician or pulmonary specialist.

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