Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

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.

A recent study suggests that a shorter term of treatment — three 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. More study is needed.

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:

  • Isoniazid
  • Rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane)
  • Ethambutol (Myambutol)
  • Pyrazinamide

There's some evidence that taking vitamin D during tuberculosis treatment enhances some of the effects of the drugs. More study is needed.

Medication side effects

Side effects of TB drugs aren't common but can be serious 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 sometimes 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.

Jan. 26, 2013