Tuberculosis is a disease caused by Mycobacterium tuberculae, a bacteria that is passed between people through the air. The disease can be cured with proper drug therapy, but because the bacteria may become resistant to any single drug, combinations of antituberculosis drugs are used to treat tuberculosis (TB) are normally required for effective treatment. At the start of the 20th Century, tuberculosis was the most common cause of death in the United States, but was laregly eliminated with better living conditions. It is most common in areas of crowding and poor ventilation, suich as crowded urban areas and prisons. In some areas, the AIDS epidemic has been accompanied by an increase in the prevalence of tuberculosis.
Some antituberculosis drugs also are used to treat or prevent other infections such as Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), which causes disease throughout the bodies of people with AIDS or other diseases of the immune system.
Antituberculosis drugs are available only with a physician's prescription and come in tablet, capsule, liquid and injectable forms. Some commonly used antituberculosis drugs are cycloserine (Seromycin), ethambutol (Myambutol), ethionamide (Trecator-SC), isoniazid (Nydrazid, Laniazid), pyrazinamide, rifabutin (Mycobutin), and rifampin (Rifadin, Rimactane).
The recommended dosage depends on the type of antituberculosis drug and may be different for different patients. Check with the physician who prescribed the medicine or the pharmacist who filled the prescription for the proper dosage. The physician may gradually increase the dosage during treatment. Be sure to follow the physician's orders. Patients who are infected with HIV must usually take larger combinations of drugs for a longer period of time than is needed for patients with an unimpaired immune system.
Some antituberculosis drugs must be taken with other drugs. If they are taken alone, they may encourage the bacteria that cause tuberculosis to become resistant to drugs used to treat the disease. When the bacteria become resistant, treating the disease becomes more difficult.
To clear up tuberculosis completely, antituberculosis drugs must be taken for as long as directed. This may mean taking the medicine every day for a year or two or even longer. Symptoms may improve very quickly after treatment with this medicine begins. However, they may come back if the medicine is stopped too quickly. Do not stop taking the medicine just because symptoms improve.
Because people may neglect to take their medication for tuberculosis, it is common to have tuberculosis centers develop a program of Directly Observed Therapy (DOT.) In these programs, patients come to the hospital or clinic, and take their medication in front of an observer. These programs may be annoying to the patients, but are justified by the risks to public health if tuberculosis germs which have become resistant to drugs were to be spread.
Cycloserine works best when it is at constant levels in the blood. To help keep levels constant, take the medicine in doses spaced evenly through the day and night. Do not miss any doses. If taking medicine at night interferes with sleep, or if it is difficult to remember to take the medicine during the day, check with a health care professional for suggestions.
Seeing a physician regularly while taking antituberculosis drugs is important. The physician will check to make sure the medicine is working as it should and will watch for unwanted side effects. These visits also will help the physician know if the dosage needs to be changed.
Symptoms should begin to improve within a few weeks after treatment begins with antituberculosis drugs. If they do not, or if they become worse, check with a physician.
Some people feel drowsy, dizzy, confused, or less alert when using these drugs. Some may also cause vision changes, clumsiness, or unsteadiness. Because of these possible problems, anyone who takes antituberculosis drugs should not drive, use machines, or do anything else that might be dangerous until they have found out how the medicine affects them.
Daily doses of pyridoxine (vitamin B6) may lessen or prevent some side effects of ethionamide or isoniazid. If the physician who prescribed the medicine recommends this, be sure to take the pyridoxine every day.
Certain kinds of cheese (such as Swiss and Cheshire) and fish (such as tuna and skipjack) may cause an unusual reaction in people taking isoniazid. Symptoms of this reaction include fast or pounding heartbeat, sweating or a hot feeling, chills or a clammy feeling, headache, lightheadedness, and red or itchy skin. This reaction is very
Rifabutin and rifampin will make saliva, sweat, tears, urine, feces, and skin turn reddish orange to reddish brown. This is nothing to worry about. However, the discolored tears may permanently stain soft contact lenses (but not hard contact lenses). To avoid ruining contact lenses, do not wear soft contacts while taking these medicines.
Rifampin may temporarily lower the number of white blood cells. Because the white blood cells are important in fighting infection, this effect increases the chance of getting an infection. This drug also may lower the number of platelets that play an important role in clotting. To reduce the risk of bleeding and infection in the mouth while taking this medicine, be especially careful when brushing and flossing the teeth. Check with a physician or dentist for suggestions on how to keep the teeth and mouth clean without causing injuries. Put off any dental work until blood counts return to normal.
Rifampin may affect the results of some medical tests. Before having medical tests, anyone taking this medicine should alert the health care professional in charge.
People who have certain medical conditions may have problems if they take antituberculosis drugs. For example:
- cycloserine or isoniazid may increase the risk of seizures (convulsions) in people with a history of seizures.
- the dosage of cycloserine may need to be adjusted for people with kidney disease.
- ethambutol or pyrazinamide may cause or worsen attacks of gout in people who are prone to having them.
- ethambutol may cause or worsen eye damage.
- diabetes may be harder to control in patients who take ethionamide.
- isoniazid may cause false results on some urine sugar tests, and pyrazinamide may cause false results on urine ketone tests. Diabetic patients who either of these medicines should discuss the possibility of false test results with their physicians.
- people with liver disease or a history of alcohol abuse may be more likely to develop hepatitis when taking isoniazid and are more likely to have side effects that affect the liver when taking rifampin.
- in people with kidney disease, ethambutol, ethionamide, or isoniazid may be more likely to cause side effects.
- side effects are also more likely in people with liver disease who take pyrazinamide.
Before taking antituberculosis drugs, be sure to let the physician know about these or any other medical problems.
In laboratory tests of pregnant animals, high doses of some antituberculosis drugs have caused birth defects and other problems in the fetus or newborn. However, pregnant women with tuberculosis need to take antituberculosis drugs to clear up their disease. Knowing that many women have had healthy babies after taking these drugs during pregnancy may be reassuring. Pregnant women who need to take this medicine and are worried about birth defects or other problems should talk to their physicians.
Anyone who has had unusual reactions to antituberculosis drugs or to niacin should let his or her physician know before taking any antituberculosis drug. The physician should also be told about any allergies to foods, dyes, preservatives, or other substances.
In some people, this medicine causes depression and thoughts of suicide. If this happens, check with a physician immediately. Switching to another medicine will usually stop these troubling thoughts and feelings. Also let the physician know immediately about any other mood or mental changes; such as nervousness, nightmares, anxiety, confusion, or irritability; and about symptoms such as muscle twitches, convulsions, or speech problems.
Headache is a common side effect that usually goes away as the body adjusts to this medicine. This problem does not need medical attention unless it continues or it interferes with everyday life.
This medicine may cause eye pain or vision changes, including loss of vision or changes in color vision. Check with a physician immediately if any of these problems develop.
In addition, anyone who has any of these symptoms while taking ethambutol should check with a physician immediately:
- painful or swollen joints, especially in the knee, ankle, or big toe
- a tight, hot sensation in the skin over painful or swollen joints
- chills Other side effects may occur but do not need medical attention unless they are bothersome or they do not go away as the body adjusts to the medicine. These include: headache, confusion, nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, and loss of appetite.
Check with a physician immediately if eye pain, blurred vision, or other vision changes occur while taking this medicine.
Symptoms such as unsteadiness, clumsiness and pain, numbness, tingling, or burning in the hands or feet could be the first signs of nerve problems that may become more serious. If any of these symptoms occur, check with a physician immediately. Other side effects that should be brought to a physician's attention immediately include yellow eyes or skin and mood or mental changes such as depression or confusion.
Less serious side effects such as dizziness, nausea or vomiting, appetite loss, sore mouth, or metallic taste may also occur. These problems usually go away as the body adjusts to the medicine. They do not need medical attention unless they continue or they interfere with normal activities.
This medicine may cause serious liver damage, especially in people over 40 years of age. However, taking medicine for tuberculosis is very important for people with the disease. Anyone who has tuberculosis and has been advised to take this drug should thoroughly discuss treatment options with his or her physician.
Recognizing the early signs of liver and nerve damage can help prevent the problems from getting worse. If any of these symptoms occur, check with a physician immediately:
- unusual tiredness or weakness
- clumsiness or unsteadiness
- pain, numbness, tingling, or burning in the hands and feet
- loss of appetite
This medicine may also cause less serious side effects such as diarrhea and stomach pain. These usually go away as the body adjusts to the medicine and do not need medical attention unless they continue.
If eye pain, blurred vision, or other vision changes occur while taking this medicine, check with a physician immediately.
Check with a physician immediately if pain in the joints occurs.
Check with a physician immediately if a skin rash occurs.
Nausea and vomiting are other possible side effects of this medicine. These problems usually go away as the body adjusts to the medicine. If they do not, check with a physician.
Stop taking rifampin and check with a physician immediately if any of the following symptoms occur. These symptoms could be early signs of problems that may become more serious. Getting prompt medical attention could prevent them from getting worse.
- unusual tiredness or weakness
- nausea or vomiting
- loss of appetite
In addition, anyone who has any of these symptoms while taking rifampin should check with a physician immediately:
- breathing problems
- skin rash or redness
- muscle and bone pain
Other side effects, such as diarrhea and stomach pain, may occur with this medicine, but should go away as the body adjusts to the drug. Medical treatment is not necessary unless these problems continue.
Other side effects may occur with any antituberculosis drug. Anyone who has unusual symptoms while taking an antituberculosis drug should get in touch with his or her physician.
Taking cycloserine and ethionamide together may increase the risk of seizures and other nervous system problems. These and other side effects also are more
Drinking alcohol regularly may prevent isoniazid from working properly and may increase the chance of liver damage. Anyone taking this medicine should strictly limit the use of alcohol. Check with a health care professional for advice on the amount of alcohol that may safely be used.
Many drugs may interact with isoniazid or rifampin, increasing the chance of liver damage or other side effects. Among these drugs are acetaminophen (Tylenol), birth control pills and other drugs that contain female hormones, and the antiseizure drugs divalproex (Depakote) and valproic acid (Depakene). For a complete list of drugs that may have this effect, check with a pharmacist.
Rifampin may make many drugs less effective. Among the drugs that may be affected are diabetes medicines taken by mouth (oral hypoglycemics), digitalis heart drugs, many antifungal drugs, and birth control pills. Because it makes birth control pills less effective, taking rifampin may increase the chance of becoming pregnant. Women who take this medicine along with birth control pills should use an additional form of birth control. For a complete list of drugs that may be affected by rifampin, check with a pharmacist.
Not every drug that may interact with an antituberculosis drug is listed here. Be sure to check with a physician or pharmacist before combining an antituberculosis drug with any other prescription or nonprescription (over-the-counter) medicine.
Cornwall, Janet. "Tuberculosis: A Clinical Problem of International Importance." The Lancet (August 30, 1997): 660.
Bacteria—Tiny, one-celled forms of life that cause many diseases and infections.
Feces—(Also called stool.) The solid waste that is left after food is digested. Feces form in the intestines and pass out of the body through the anus.
Fetus—A developing baby inside the womb.
Immune system—The body's natural defenses against disease and infection.
Microorganism—An organism (life form) that is too small to be seen with the naked eye.
Platelets—Disk-shaped bodies in the blood that are important in clotting.
Seizure—A sudden attack, spasm, or convulsion.