Tuberculosis (TB) is commonly known as a lung disease, but it can affect any part of the body. The bacteria are breathed in through the lungs, but can travel in the blood to other organs. This can make diagnosis difficult, as the person may not have the cough so commonly associated with TB, or is unable to produce sputum that can be tested for the bacteria.
Tuberculosis is caused by a bacterium. It may cause disease in any part of the body, but the lung is the usual site. The bacterium slowly destroys the tissue of the lungs – this is called pulmonary tuberculosis. Only TB of the lungs or throat can be (but are not always) infectious.
The most common symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis are:
- A cough that lasts for more than three weeks. This may start as a dry irritating cough that may be no different from that suffered in any chest infection. The cough of tuberculosis will continue for weeks or months, getting progressively worse. After a while profuse amounts of phlegm may be brought up from the chest with each cough. When a blood vessel is damaged, blood may be coughed up. The cough of severe tuberculosis may be uncontrollable, causing the patient to have spasms of wracking continuous coughing. Sometimes the patient will complain of pains in the chest which will be made worse by coughing. In severe cases where much of the lung has been destroyed, breathlessness may occur.
- Loss of weight for no obvious reason – initially losing weight very slowly, but often realising after some months that he or she is many kilograms lighter.
- Fever and heavy night sweats. Temperatures that accompany the disease often occur at night, causing the patient to sweat so profusely that it may be necessary to change all the bedclothes in the middle of the night.
- A general and unusual sense of tiredness and being unwell.
- Loss of appetite.
These symptoms may be signs of other problems but, if you suffer from them and are worried, you should talk to a doctor or nurse a your local surgery or clinic.
All forms of TB are curable without lasting health implications if they are diagnosed and treated early enough.
Our Employee Wellbeing Programme (EWP) is available 24 hours a day if you want to know more about tuberculosis. Call us on 0861872862 or email us at
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