Symptoms of tuberculosis

The symptoms of tuberculosis (TB) depend on where the infection occurs.

TB usually develops slowly. Your symptoms might not begin until months or even years after you were initially exposed to the bacteria.

In some cases the bacteria infect the body but don’t cause any symptoms, which is known as latent TB. It is called active TB if the bacteria cause symptoms.

Read more about the causes of tuberculosis.

Pulmonary tuberculosis (TB)

A TB infection of the lungs is known as pulmonary TB. In the UK, just over half of TB infections are pulmonary TB.

Symptoms include:

  • a persistent cough of more than three weeks that brings up phlegm, which may be bloody 
  • breathlessness, which is usually mild to begin with and gradually gets worse
  • lack of appetite and weight loss
  • a high temperature of 38ºC (100.4ºF) or above
  • night sweats 
  • extreme tiredness or fatigue
  • unexplained pain for more than three weeks

When to get medical help

You should see your GP if you have a cough that lasts for more than three weeks or if you cough up blood.

Read more about coughing up blood.

Extrapulmonary tuberculosis (TB)

In some cases, TB can occur outside the lungs, which is known as extrapulmonary TB.

Extrapulmonary TB is more common in people with a weakened immune system, particularly people with an HIV infection. You are also more likely to develop extrapulmonary TB if you have previously been infected with TB but haven’t had any symptoms (a latent TB infection).

A TB infection can affect the:

  • lymph nodes (lymph node TB)
  • bones and joints (skeletal TB)
  • the digestive system (gastrointestinal TB)
  • the bladder and reproductive system (genitourinary TB)
  • the nervous system (central nervous system TB)

These types of extrapulmonary TB can cause additional symptoms, which are described below.

Lymph node TB

Lymph nodes are small glands that are part of the immune system. They remove unwanted bacteria and particles from the body. Symptoms of lymph node TB include:

  • persistent, painless swelling of the lymph nodes, which usually affects nodes in the neck, but swelling can occur in nodes throughout your body 
  • over time, the swollen nodes can release fluid through the skin

Skeletal TB

Symptoms of skeletal TB include:

  • bone pain
  • curving of the affected bone or joint
  • loss of movement or feeling in the affected bone or joint
  • weakened bone that may fracture easily

Gastrointestinal TB

Symptoms of gastrointestinal TB include:

Genitourinary TB 

Symptoms of genitourinary TB include:

  • a burning sensation when you urinate
  • blood in your urine 
  • a frequent urge to pass urine during the night
  • groin pain

Central nervous system TB

Your central nervous system consists of your brain and spinal cord. Symptoms of central nervous system TB include:

  • headaches
  • being sick 
  • stiff neck
  • changes in your mental state, such as confusion
  • blurred vision
  • fits (seizures)

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