TB symptoms are very variable and depend on the type of TB. It is very difficult to diagnose TB just from the symptoms, as the symptoms can often be the same as those of another disease. So to diagnose TB it is always necessary to do at least one TB test.
If you have symptoms this is known as active TB. But if you have in your body the bacteria that cause TB but you do not have any symptoms this is known as latent TB.
The general symptoms or signs of active TB include weakness or feeling very tired, losing weight without trying, a lack of appetite, chills, fever (a high temperature of 38C or above) and night sweats.1
Pulmonary TB is TB in the lungs. One of the early signs of pulmonary TB is often having a bad cough that lasts longer than three weeks, having pain in the chest, and coughing up blood or phlegm from deep inside the lungs.1
Symptoms of Extrapulmonary TB
Extrapulmonary TB, which is also known as disseminated or miliary TB, refers to all the different types of TB other than pulmonary TB.2 Generally the types of TB that do not affect the lungs. The main exception to this is the type of extrapulmonary TB known as Pleural TB.
The general symptoms are the same as for pulmonary TB, but there can then be specific symptoms relating to the particular site or sites in the body that are infected.
Lymph node TB
Lymphadenitis is the inflammation and/or enlargement of a lymph node and is a common response to a variety of infections particularly in children.3 The only symptoms may be painless slowly enlarging lymph nodes, as there are often no general symptoms. The swollen lymph nodes are often in the neck area, although they can be in the groin.
TB infection of the lymph nodes in the neck is sometimes referred to by the name Scrofula, or TB adenitis.4
Symptoms of skeletal (bone and joint) TB
The most common initial symptom is pain, but it depends on the bone or joint that is affected. There may also be curving of the affected bone or joint, as well as loss of movement in the affected bone or joint. The affected bone may also be weakened and may fracture easily.5
Spinal TB is also known as TB Spondylitis or Pott Disease. The symptoms of Pott disease depend on the stage of disease, and the affected site, but back pain is the earliest and most common symptom.6
TB meningitis does not start with classic meningitis symptoms. It begins with vague, general symptoms of aches and pains, a fever, and generally feeling unwell. This lasts for anywhere from about 2 to 8 weeks. Only then do the more obvious symptoms like vomiting, severe headache, a dislike of lights, neck stiffness and seizures occur.7
Gastrointestinal TB, Abdominal TB or TB of the Kidneys
The symptoms of abdominal TB can be abdominal pain, diarrhea, and bleeding from the anus or rectum. As with a number of other types of TB, the symptoms will depend on the exact area that is affected.5 For example TB in the kidneys can cause blood in the urine.
Symptoms of TB in children
In a similar way to adults the symptoms of TB in children depend on the type of TB that the child has. Children usually have pulmonary TB and the symptoms are usually a chronic cough, a fever and failure to thrive or weight loss.
Children develop extra pulmonary TB (disseminated TB) more often than adults.8 Disseminated or Miliary TB, such as TB meningitis particularly occurs in children less than three years old.
This page was last updated in January 2020.
Author Annabel Kanabus
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- “Get the Facts About TB Disease”, CDC
- “Disseminated tuberculosis”,
- “Lymphadenitis”, Medscape
- “Scrofula”, Medline Plus
- “Tuberculosis (TB) - Symptoms”, NHS choices
- “Pott Disease”, Medscape
- “TB Meningitis”, Meningitis Research Foundation
- “Childhood TB: Training Toolkit”, WHO, Geneva, 2014