Tuberculosis (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What happens to the body when a person gets TB?

When the inhaled tuberculosis bacteria enter the lungs, they can multiply and cause a local lung infection (pneumonia). The local lymph nodes associated with the lungs may also become involved with the infection and usually become enlarged. The hilar lymph nodes (the lymph nodes adjacent to the heart in the central part of the chest) are often involved.

In addition, TB can spread to other parts of the body. The body's immune (defense) system, however, can fight off the infection and stop the bacteria from spreading. The immune system does so ultimately by forming scar tissue around the TB bacteria and isolating it from the rest of the body. Tuberculosis that occurs after initial exposure to the bacteria is often referred to as primary TB. If the body is able to form scar tissue (fibrosis) around the TB bacteria, then the infection is contained in an inactive state. Such an individual typically has no symptoms and cannot spread TB to other people. The scar tissue and lymph nodes may eventually harden, like stone, due to the process of calcification of the scars (deposition of calcium from the bloodstream in the scar tissue). These scars often appear on X-rays and imaging studies like round marbles and are referred to as granulomas. If these scars do not show any evidence of calcium on X-ray, they can be difficult to distinguish from cancer.

Sometimes, however, the body's immune system becomes weakened, and the TB bacteria break through the scar tissue and can cause active disease, referred to as reactivation tuberculosis or secondary TB. For example, the immune system can be weakened by old age, the development of another infection or a cancer, or certain medications such as cortisone, anticancer drugs, or certain medications used to treat arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, or organ transplantation. The breakthrough of bacteria can result in a recurrence of the pneumonia and a spread of TB to other locations in the body. The kidneys, bone, and lining of the brain and spinal cord (meninges) are the most common sites affected by the spread of TB beyond the lungs.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/15/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Tuberculosis - Diagnosis Question: How was the diagnosis of your tuberculosis established?
Tuberculosis - Treatments Question: What treatment was effective for your tuberculosis?
Tuberculosis - After Treatment Question: Do you continue to have problems after being treated for TB?
Tuberculosis - Experience Question: If known, how did you or a loved one contract TB?
Tuberculosis - Symptoms Question: Discuss the symptoms associated with TB in you, a friend, or relative.

STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!