Medications are the cornerstone of tuberculosis treatment. But treating TB takes much longer than treating other types of bacterial infections.
With tuberculosis, you must take antibiotics for at least six to nine months. The exact drugs and length of treatment depend on your age, overall health, possible drug resistance, the form of TB (latent or active) and the infection's location in the body.
Recent research suggests that a shorter term of treatment — four months instead of nine — with combined medication may be effective in keeping latent TB from becoming active TB. With the shorter course of treatment, people are more likely to take all their medication and the risk of side effects is lessened. Studies are ongoing.
Most common TB drugs
If you have latent tuberculosis, you may need to take just one type of TB drug. Active tuberculosis, particularly if it's a drug-resistant strain, will require several drugs at once. The most common medications used to treat tuberculosis include:
- Rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane)
- Ethambutol (Myambutol)
If you have drug-resistant TB, a combination of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones and injectable medications, such as amikacin, kanamycin or capreomycin, are generally used for 20 to 30 months. Some types of TB are developing resistance to these medications as well.
A number of new drugs are being looked at as add-on therapy to the current drug-resistant combination treatment including:
Medication side effects
Serious side effects of TB drugs aren't common but can be dangerous when they do occur. All tuberculosis medications can be highly toxic to your liver. When taking these medications, call your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- A yellow color to your skin (jaundice)
- Dark urine
- A fever that lasts three or more days and has no obvious cause
Completing treatment is essential
After a few weeks, you won't be contagious and you may start to feel better. It might be tempting to stop taking your TB drugs. But it is crucial that you finish the full course of therapy and take the medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Stopping treatment too soon or skipping doses can allow the bacteria that are still alive to become resistant to those drugs, leading to TB that is much more dangerous and difficult to treat.
To help people stick with their treatment, a program called directly observed therapy (DOT) is recommended. In this approach, a health care worker administers your medication so that you don't have to remember to take it on your own.
Aug. 01, 2014
- Questions and answers about tuberculosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/faqs/default.htm. Accessed June 7, 2014.
- Zumla A, et al. Tuberculosis. New England Journal of Medicine. 2013;368:745.
- Cruz-Knight W, et al. Tuberculosis: An overview. Primary Care Clinics Office Practice. 2013;40:743.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed June 4, 2014.
- Wong EB, et al. Rising to the challenge: new therapies for tuberculosis. Trends in Microbiology. 2013;21:493.
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