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Tuberculosis Some Common Questions ?

What is tuberculosis ?

It is an infection caused by a bacteria (micro organism) called as Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

What parts of the body does it affect ?

It most commonly affects the lungs but can spread to almost all organs of the body.

How does it spread ?

It spreads by close contact with a person affected by tuberculosis. The bacteria is present in sputum of an infected person or the air coughed / breathed out by an infected person. Direct inhalation of infected air can cause the disease. The risk of transmission increases in crowded areas and unhygienic places specially which lack good ventilation.

What are its symptoms ?

The common systemic symptoms are loss of weight and appetite and low grade fever especially with evening rise. The specific symptoms depend on the part of the body affected. In cases of pulmonary (lung) tuberculosis patients may have long standing cough with or without blood in sputum.

Is there any cure for tuberculosis ?

Yes. Today we have very potent antibiotics which can cure tuberculosis completely.

How long does the treatment last ?

The duration of treatment depends on the part of the body affected. Generally the treatment lasts for about 6 months of which the patient has to take 4 drugs in the first 2 months and 2 drugs in the next 4 months. HIV status and drug resistance may require a longer course and different drugs to be used.

The important thing to understand is that once started a complete course (i.e. exactly the number of medicines prescribed and for the exact duration) must be undertaken. Stopping the treatment or taking irregular treatment increases chances of the bacteria developing drug resistance within you. This disease can be fatal if untreated.

The commonly used drugs today are Isoniazid, Rifampicin, Ethambutol and Pyrazinamide.

Do the drugs have side-effects ?

The drugs may have certain side-effects. However, generally if taken in the prescribed dose and for the prescribed duration the side effects are minimal. Your doctor will get regular liver function tests, blood investigations and eye consultation as required for the side-effects. Keep your doctor informed of any side-effect you feel you are having. Timely management can prevent serious damage.

How is tuberculosis diagnosed ?

Diagnosis of chest tuberculosis requires certain investigations like chest X-ray , CT scan, Mantoux test and sputum culture and sensitivity. Detection of tuberculosis in other parts of the body may require other specialized investigations like ultrasound and fine needle aspiration cytology or biopsy. Many more invasive and expensive investigations also may be required in certain cases. However the diagnosis may still remain presumptive in certain cases and a response to anti-tubercular therapy finally helps in making a diagnosis.

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