The Connection Between Tuberculosis and Diabetes

Tuberculosis (TB) is caused by an infection of the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. There are 2 phases of TB: latent TB infection and TB disease.1

People with latent TB infection have been exposed to the bacteria but have no symptoms. They cannot spread the infection to others.1

For people with a healthy immune system, the growth of TB bacteria is limited. This keeps it from progressing to an active infection. However, the longer a latent TB infection is untreated, the more likely you are to develop an active infection.1

Having a disease that lowers the immune system increases the risk of developing an active TB infection. Studies show that people with diabetes are more likely to develop TB.1

What is the connection between tuberculosis and diabetes?

Having high blood sugar levels over a long period of time leads to lower immune function. Research studies show that having TB complicated by diabetes decreases the effectiveness of treatment and increases health complications. Having diabetes also increases the risk for TB infection to happen again after it has been treated.2

Who is at risk?

The risk of developing a TB and diabetes infection is higher in low- and middle-income countries. Risk factors for TB include:2

  • Traveling to areas with high rates of TB
  • Working at high-risk locations, such as hospitals, homeless shelters, correctional facilities, and nursing homes
  • Having a disease that weakens the immune system, such as diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, kidney disease, and autoimmune diseases

What are the signs and symptoms to look out for?

It is common for diabetes to go undiagnosed until complications develop from consistently high blood sugar levels. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, contact your healthcare provider to have your blood sugar levels checked.

Symptoms of diabetes include:1,2

  • Frequently needing to urinate
  • Feeling very thirsty
  • Lose weight without trying
  • Feeling very tired
  • Numbness or tingling in hands or feet

Early diagnosis and treatment of TB help to reduce the risk for complications. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of TB or have had exposure to someone with TB, contact your healthcare provider for a medical exam.1-3

Symptoms of TB include:3

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Night sweats
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Coughing 3 weeks or longer
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain

What are the treatment options?

There are effective treatments available for both TB and diabetes. TB is treated with antibiotics and usually takes 6 to 9 months to fully treat. It is important to take all of your medicine as prescribed to prevent the illness from coming back later.1-3

It is important to keep blood sugar levels within a normal range to prevent complications from developing. This is especially important when going through TB treatment, since high blood sugar levels could lower the effectiveness of TB treatment by weakening the immune system.1-3

Diabetes is often treated with a combination of lifestyle changes and drugs. Weight loss, exercise, and a healthy diet are all lifestyle changes that help to control blood sugar levels. In some cases, diabetes can be managed with lifestyle changes alone.1,2

Your doctor may also recommend medicines to help you manage your blood sugar levels. These work to increase the insulin produced by your body, increase your insulin production, or provide insulin.1

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