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Medication for Tuberculosis

NYU Langone specialists manage both active and latent tuberculosis with powerful antibiotic medications. For active tuberculosis, doctors typically use a combination of four medications because the tuberculosis bacteria may become resistant to one or more of them.

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A doctor usually prescribes these medications for a period of six months. Your doctor determines the dosage and frequency. It is important to take your antibiotics exactly as prescribed. This regimen usually resolves most infections.

When doctors perform a sputum culture to diagnose tuberculosis, they also perform a drug susceptibility test to determine which medications may work best to treat an infection. As the culture grows, the organisms identified are tested to see if certain drugs kill the organism. Your doctor uses the results of testing to develop your medication plan. 

Side effects of medications for tuberculosis can include nerve damage, or peripheral neuropathy, drug induced lupus, headache, and fatigue. Your doctor checks you for side effects at each visit. It is important to report any symptoms that arise between visits to your doctor immediately.

In about 10 percent of people who have tuberculosis, the bacterium is resistant to antibiotics. If this occurs, you may need to be treated for longer than six months, and your doctor may adjust your medication plan. Many people with drug-resistant tuberculosis take medication for up to two years. 

People diagnosed with latent tuberculosis, which has no symptoms, are typically treated with one dose of antibiotics taken by mouth per day for nine months. This usually eradicates the bacteria.

Many people with tuberculosis who are treated early recover completely without any complications. People who delay treatment or don’t follow a doctor’s instructions thoroughly are at higher risk of complications, since the bacteria may spread from the lungs to other parts of the body through the blood.