Tuberculosis bacteria die very slowly. It takes at least six months for the tuberculosis medications to kill all the TB bacteria. You will probably start feeling well after only a few weeks of treatment, but beware -- the TB bacteria are still alive in your body. You must continue to take your medicine until all the TB bacteria are dead, even though you may feel better and have no more symptoms of active TB.
If you don't continue taking your TB drugs, or you aren't taking your medicine regularly, this can be very dangerous. The TB bacteria will grow again, and you will remain sick for a much longer time.
The bacteria may also become resistant to the medicines you are taking. If this happens, the person has what is called drug-resistant TB. Some people have a form of the disease that is resistant to two or more drugs. This is called multidrug-resistant TB, or MDR-TB. This form of TB is much more difficult to cure.
You may need new, different medicines to kill the tuberculosis bacteria if the old products no longer work. These new tuberculosis medications must be taken for a longer time and usually have more serious side effects. Even with treatment, however, between four and six out of 10 patients with multidrug-resistant TB will die, which is the same rate seen in TB patients who are not treated.
The only way to get well is to take your tuberculosis medications exactly as your doctor or nurse tells you to. This may not be easy. You will be taking your medicine for a long time (six months or longer), so you should get into a routine. Here are some ways to help remember to take your medicine:
- Participate in the directly observed therapy program (DOT) at your health department.
- Take your pills at the same time every day. For example, you can take them before eating breakfast, during a coffee break, or after brushing your teeth.
- Ask a family member or a friend to remind you to take your pills.
- Mark off each day on a calendar as your take your medicine.
- Put your pills in a weekly pill dispenser. Keep it by your bed or in your purse or pocket.
If you forget to take your medications one day, skip that dose and take the next scheduled dose. Tell your doctor or nurse that you missed a dose. You may also call your doctor or nurse for instructions.