Treating active TB

If you are diagnosed with active TB (see tuberculosis), a healthcare professional should refer you to a team of experts trained in TB. People with other conditions such as HIV or severe liver disease, and children and young people, should be treated by healthcare professionals specialising in the care of these groups.

The usual treatment for active TB, including TB affecting the lungs, is a combination of different antibiotics for a total of 6 months. If you have TB affecting the brain or spinal cord, your treatment should last for 12 months. Treatment could last longer if you have drug‑resistant TB (when standard anti‑TB drugs aren't effective enough) or have had breaks in your treatment.

If you have TB of the brain, spinal cord or heart, a healthcare professional should also offer you another type of medicine called a corticosteroid for a few weeks to reduce swelling in the area affected by the TB. You may be offered surgery, if you have increased pressure in your brain or an unstable spine or a compressed spinal cord.

It is important that you finish all your treatment.

Directly observed therapy

If you are likely to find it difficult to take your medicine regularly, your TB team may ask if you want to join a programme called 'directly observed therapy'. This involves meeting with a specific healthcare worker each time you take a dose of your anti‑TB medicine. Where and when you meet are decided between you and your healthcare worker. But the aim is to make it as easy as possible for you. This kind of treatment is usually given daily, but at least 3 times a week.

All people in prison who are having treatment for TB should have directly observed therapy – and this should continue after they are released.

If you have side effects

If you have severe side effects from your treatment, usually the drugs will be stopped temporarily until the side effects go away. Doctors will check how well your liver is working and your drugs will then be slowly restarted 1 at a time. But, if you have severe TB, you may need to stay on some of the drugs and be monitored at the same time.

When the treatment finishes

Once you have finished your treatment, you shouldn't usually have any more appointments to see a TB specialist. But, the specialist should tell you about symptoms that could mean the TB has come back, and how to contact them quickly if you get these symptoms.

Questions to ask about treatment

  • Why you have decided to offer me this type of treatment?

  • What will it involve?

  • How will it help me? What effect will it have on my symptoms and everyday life?

  • How long will it take to have an effect?

  • When should I stop taking my treatment? Can I stop taking the treatment when my symptoms go away? Why is it important for me to finish all of the treatment?

  • What are the side effects associated with this treatment?

  • Can I have treatment for TB if I am already taking other medicines, for example for HIV or after a transplant?

  • Are there any other treatments I could have apart from the one you have offered me?

  • What can I do to help me remember to keep taking my medicines?

  • Can you tell me more about directly observed therapy, what it will involve and how it can help me?

  • Do I have drug‑resistant TB?

  • Who can I contact if I have any questions?

  • Information Standard