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Taking medicines to treat tuberculosis

Tuberculosis - medicines; DOT; Directly observed therapy; TB - medicines

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Tuberculosis (TB) is a contagious bacterial infection that involves the lungs, but may spread to other organs. The goal of treatment is to cure the infection with medicines that fight the TB bacteria.

Why Do You Need Medicines for TB?

You may have a TB infection but no active disease or symptoms. This means the TB bacteria remain inactive (dormant) in a small area of your lungs. This type of infection may be present for years and is called latent TB. With latent TB:

When you have active TB, you may feel sick or have a cough, lose weight, feel tired, or have a fever or night sweats. With active TB:

Ask your provider if people you live or work with should be tested for TB.

How to Take the Medicines?

TB germs die very slowly. You need to take several different pills at different times of the day for 6 months or longer. The only way to get rid of the germs is to take your TB medicines the way your provider has instructed. This means taking all of your medicines every day.

If you do not take your TB medicines the right way, or stop taking the medicines early:

If your provider is worried that you may not be taking all the medicines as directed, they may arrange to have someone meet with you every day or a few times a week to watch you take your TB drugs. This is called directly observed therapy.

Side Effects and Other Problems

Women who may be pregnant, who are pregnant, or who are breastfeeding should talk to their provider before taking these medicines. If you are using birth control pills, ask your provider if your TB medicines can make birth control pills less effective.

Most people do not have very bad side effects from TB medicines. Problems to watch out for and tell your provider about include:

When to Call the Doctor

Call your provider if you have:


Ellner JJ, Jacobson KR. Tuberculosis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 308.

Hopewell PC, Kato-Maeda M, Ernst JD. Tuberculosis. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 35.


Review Date: 10/14/2019  

Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Paul F. Harron Jr. Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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