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Medical History and Physical Exam for Tuberculosis (TB)

Exam Overview

When you give your medical history, your doctor collects information about whether you are likely to have tuberculosis (TB), a bacterial infection. An active infection can spread to other people. A latent infection cannot spread to other people, but it can turn active and become contagious. Your doctor will ask whether you:

  • Have symptoms of active TB, such as ongoing cough, fatigue, fever, or night sweats.
  • Have been in any situations that may increase your risk of being infected with TB-causing bacteria, such as contact with a person who has active TB, recent travel to places where TB is common, or having a weakened immune system.
  • Have had a tuberculin skin test (TB skin test, PPD test) before, and what the results were.
  • Have an HIV infection.
  • Are taking any medicines, both prescription and nonprescription. Your doctor will want a list of all of these medicines, including herbs and natural products.
  • Have been diagnosed with TB in the past but were not treated.

The physical exam looks for signs of TB. A doctor uses a stethoscope to listen to your breathing for sounds that indicate a problem in your lungs. The doctor also will look for signs of a TB infection in parts of the body other than your lungs (extrapulmonary TB).

Why It Is Done

A medical history and physical exam may be done to check for TB if you have:

  • TB symptoms, such as ongoing cough, fatigue, fever, or night sweats.
  • Close contact with a person infected with active TB disease.
  • Spent time in a country where TB is common.

Results

Results from the physical exam may include:

Normal

  • The sounds your lungs make while you breathe are normal.
  • You do not have a cough or a fever.
  • There are no signs of TB infection in parts of the body other than your lungs (extrapulmonary TB).

Abnormal

  • The sounds your lungs make while you breathe indicate a problem.
  • You have a cough or a fever.
  • You have signs of TB infection in parts of the body other than your lungs, such as swollen lymph nodes.

What To Think About

Although the medical history and physical exam can suggest you have active TB disease, finding TB-causing bacteria in the mucus from your lungs (sputum) provides proof.

The medical history alone does not prove whether you have TB disease in parts of the body other than your lungs (extrapulmonary TB). Examining a sample of tissue from the affected area or organ (biopsy) for TB-causing bacteria is the only way to know for sure.

Complete the medical test information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
Last Revised April 4, 2013

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