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Tuberculosis: Signs and Symptoms

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This information was reviewed and approved by Michelle Haas, MD (4/1/2024).

Although tuberculosis (TB) most often affects the lungs, it can affect any organ in the body. Tuberculosis symptoms vary and can develop gradually, making it hard to pinpoint when they started. If any of the following applies to you, ask your about tuberculosis tests:

Delays in accessing care can make the symptoms progress and become more severe. The most common tuberculosis symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Night sweats
  • Cough
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Blood in the sputum (phlegm)
  • Loss of energy
  • Abnormal findings in the lungs on chest X-ray or other chest imaging

Keep in mind that the above tuberculosis symptoms don’t happen in everyone. Symptoms also can be mild. People are often surprised when they learn they have TB and experience guilt because they have been around others. 

Other symptoms of active TB disease depend on where in the body the bacteria are growing. If active TB is in the lungs (pulmonary TB), the symptoms may include a bad cough, fever and weight loss. Coughing up blood, while less common, also can occur. 

If active TB is outside the lungs (for example, in the kidney, spine, brain, or lymph nodes), it is called extrapulmonary TB and has other symptoms, depending on which organs are affected. For example, tuberculosis in the lymph nodes can lead to unexplained growths or swelling in the neck, armpit or groin. TB can impact the uterus and fallopian tubes and is one of the leading causes of infertility outside of the U.S.

Tuberculosis Risk Factors

TB is an airborne respiratory infection. You are at risk of TB infection if you are around people with active TB disease who are coughing and releasing bacteria into the air. Any situation that can lead to many people sharing airspace for several hours (multiple people living or working together) can increase risk of exposure. Often people with active TB in their lungs can have very mild symptoms and are not aware that they have TB. In communities, countries and settings where TB is common, avoiding being exposed to TB can be difficult.     

There are medical conditions that can also increase the risk of acquiring TB infection if you are exposed. These include the following:  

  • Living with diabetes, particularly if insulin is needed.
  • Living with HIV, particularly if not yet on treatment.
  • Immunocompromised due to other conditions or on medications that impair immune system functioning (often this can be chemotherapy or medications for rheumatoid arthritis or other immune system disorders). 
  • Low body weight.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Silicosis, a respiratory condition caused by inhaling silica dust.

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