Tuberculosis

How is TB treated?

Active TB can be completely cured if you take a course of antibiotics against TB for at least six months. Very occasionally, the TB bacteria may be resistant to one or more of the usual antibiotics so you might have treatment for longer.

At the beginning of your treatment, you’ll need to take lots of tablets – make sure you know how to take them correctly. It’s important not to miss any of your tablets. You may be offered support to take your medication either directly from the clinic, or in your home or community by outreach workers.

If you have latent TB, you may be offered a shorter course of treatment with fewer tablets. This aims to reduce your risk of developing active TB. Your specialist nurses and doctors will discuss the benefits with you.

Treatment for TB in the UK is free for everyone, regardless of immigration status.

Help to stop smoking

If you smoke, stopping will help. The NHS offers a free stop smoking service – your GP can refer you. Find out more in our information about smoking.

Remember:

  • It’s best to take most TB tablets half an hour before eating.
  • Try not to miss taking your tablets. If you do forget them in the morning, take them later in the day.
  • Don’t run out of tablets. Always get a new supply before they are finished.
TB can be cured completely but only if you take your tablets regularly and keep taking them for the whole course. Don’t stop just because you are feeling well again. Only stop when your doctor tells you it is safe to do so. TB can become resistant to treatment if you stop taking your drugs too soon.

What are the side effects of TB medication?

TB medication does not usually cause serious problems.

One of the medications commonly used to treat TB, called rifampicin:

  • will give your urine an orange-red colour – this happens to everyone who takes it
  • might permanently discolour soft contact lenses
  • will make the oral contraceptive pill less effective. If you’re taking the pill, ask your doctor about other methods of contraception while you have TB treatment

Another drug called ethambutol can - very rarely - affect your eyes causing blurring or the way you see colour. So tell your doctor or nurse about any changes in your vision.

An important possible side effect with some of TB medication is inflammation of the liver. You should tell your doctor or nurse immediately if you start vomiting or develop yellowness around your eyes or skin. This could be a sign of jaundice. 

How long does treatment last?

You’ll have to visit the clinic until your treatment is finished - and sometimes a little longer. This usually take six months.

At the beginning of your treatment, you may need to visit the clinic every two to four weeks to make sure:

  • you are taking your treatment
  • you are on the correct tablets
  • you have no side effects with your treatment
  • you are getting better

Once it’s clear you’re on the correct treatment, you’ll go to the clinic less often.

Returning to work

If you have active TB in the lung, your specialist doctors and nurses will tell you when you are considered not infectious so you can return to work. Public Health England require an assessment by occupational health teams or local health protection teams to decide if people you work with need to be tested for latent or active TB. This is all done in strict confidence.

If you do not have infectious TB, you can return to work as soon as you feel well enough.

Download our tuberculosis PDF (421KB) Order your free tuberculosis leaflet >

Last medically reviewed: September 2017. Due for review: September 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.