Does Tuberculosis Go Away?

Reviewed on 6/14/2022

An illustration showing medicine pills in the shape of a pair of lungs
Tuberculosis symptoms can seem to go away, but the illness often reactivates. Without treatment, tuberculosis can return. Tuberculosis treatment regimens last for months.

Tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria that usually affects the lungs. TB is not common in the U.S., but it is a leading cause of death in other parts of the world. 

There are two TB-related conditions: 

  • Latent TB infection
    • The patient has no symptoms
    • The body is able to fight the bacteria
    • It is not contagious at this stage
    • Patients usually have a positive TB skin test reaction or positive TB blood test 
    • TB disease may develop if treatment is not received for latent TB infection
  • TB disease
    • Patients are sick and symptomatic 
    • Patients are contagious 

In some cases, the initial infection of tuberculosis can seem to go away on its own, but it often reactivates. Without treatment, the illness can come back. Tuberculosis can go away with proper treatment, but treatment regimens last for months and patients must take all medications for the duration they are prescribed, exactly as prescribed. 

  • If patients stop taking TB medications before the prescribed course is finished, or they do not take medications as directed, they can become sick again and they may be resistant to the initial medications. 
  • Drug-resistant TB is more difficult and more expensive to treat. 
  • Untreated tuberculosis can be deadly. 

Treatment for latent tuberculosis infection usually lasts three months or longer and includes: 

  • Several different drug regimens: 
    • Isoniazid plus rifampin daily for three months
    • Rifampin daily for four months
    • Isoniazid plus rifapentine weekly for three months (usually given weekly by a trained health care worker)
    • For people who cannot take rifampin or rifapentine: isoniazid daily for six or nine months 
  • People treated for latent TB infection should be monitored once a month by a doctor to check for signs of medication toxicity, such as liver damage 

Treatment for active tuberculosis disease usually lasts six to nine months and includes: 

  • First-line anti-tuberculosis medications that form the core of treatment regimens are:
  • Regimens for treating TB disease have an intensive phase of two months, followed by a continuation phase of either four or seven months (a total of six to nine months for treatment)

What Are Symptoms of Tuberculosis?

Symptoms of active tuberculosis disease include:

How Is Tuberculosis Diagnosed?

Tuberculosis (TB) is diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination along with the following tests:

  • Tuberculin skin test, also called a purified protein derivative test (PPD)
    • A shot in the arm containing tiny pieces of dead TB bacteria is administered
    • Two to three days later, the injection site is examined for a skin reaction (redness or swelling) and the extent of the reaction
    • Skin tests are usually positive within 4 to 10 weeks after exposure 
  • Blood test (interferon-gamma release assays [IGRAs])
    • Blood tests are not always available everywhere

Latent tuberculosis infection is diagnosed with a positive skin test or blood test, followed by a physical examination and imaging such as a chest X-ray to make sure TB is not active and causing disease.

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Reviewed on 6/14/2022
References
Image Source: iStock Images

https://www.uptodate.com/contents/tuberculosis-beyond-the-basics?search=tuberculosis&source=search_result&selectedTitle=2~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=2

https://www.cdc.gov/tb/default.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK344404/