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How Tuberculosis (TB) Affects Your Mental Health

Did you know that in South Africa, one person dies every 10 minutes from tuberculosis? Factors such as poverty increase the risk of the prevalence of this contagious infection. Read on to learn more about tuberculosis and how it affects your mental health.

What is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis (TB) is a common infection that can affect the lungs. It’s contagious and can spread to other body parts, such as the brain, kidneys, and spine. The infection is caused by a specific pathogenic bacteria known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

When you breathe in this bacterium, it settles in your lungs and spreads through your blood to other parts of your body. If Mycobacterium tuberculosis is in your lungs, it becomes highly contagious compared to in different parts, such as the kidneys and spine. However, immediate exposure doesn’t make it contagious until it becomes active in your immune system.

Types of TB

Being exposed to the tuberculosis bacteria doesn’t mean you will become severely ill. These are various stages of the infection that can affect you:

Primary TB

This is the first stage of the infection when it enters your immune system. The antibodies can still fight the invasion and might destroy the bacteria. However, some may survive and multiply to other parts of your body.

Latent TB

The latent TB stage follows when your immune cells attempt to protect the lung tissue infected with the bacteria. A strong immune system can control the infection, reducing any potential harm it can cause. If the bacteria still survive, there won’t be symptoms of the illness.

Active TB

When your immune system fails to destroy Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria multiply and spread, making you ill. The infection can travel from your lungs to other parts of your body and become extrapulmonary tuberculosis. The symptoms will depend on where the disease has worsened.

TB Risk Factors

While anyone can be at risk of tuberculosis, it’s important to note that others are at a higher risk since certain factors can increase exposure and make the infection active in your immune system. Common factors that increase the likelihood of the infection include:

  • An underlying chronic illness such as diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and severe kidney disease.
  • Living with someone who has an active infection.
  • Working in an environment with high-risk cases.
  • Using illegal substances.
  • Underlying autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Symptoms of TB

The symptoms you experience depend on where the infection has spread in the body. If it’s in your lungs, you might have a bad cough for over three weeks, severe chest pains, cough up yellow or green mucus or blood.

Other symptoms include:

  • Lack of appetite.
  • Chills or a fever.
  • Rapid weight loss.
  • Severe fatigue or muscle weakness.
  • Intense sweating at night.

Living with TB

Even though tuberculosis is a highly contagious infection, it can still be treated with proper medication. Completing the entire course of your prescribed medicine can help avoid complications. The treatment of an active infection involves a combination of three or four drugs and can last for six to nine months.

The Link Between Tuberculosis and Mental Health

Research suggests that mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression can worsen in people who have been diagnosed with tuberculosis. People with underlying mental health disorders have an increased risk of this infection, and they’re less likely to follow treatment recommendations. This can result in unfavourable treatment outcomes such as drug resistance and potentially ongoing infection transmission.

Additionally, the relationship between tuberculosis and mental health is complex because pre-existing mental health conditions might impact your immune system. On the other hand, being diagnosed with the infection can increase the risk of various mental health disorders. It’s crucial to protect your mental health while receiving treatment for tuberculosis.

How to Improve Your Mental Health While Diagnosed with TB

You’re not alone if you have been diagnosed with an active tuberculosis infection. Navigating a potentially life-threatening illness can be a challenge that can prevent you from engaging in healthy everyday activities. Here are some suggestions you might consider to improve your mental health while getting treatment for your infection:

  • Take it one day at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Be kind to yourself and understand that others are going through the same thing.
  • Follow your treatment plan.
  • Rely on your friends and family to get you through your difficult moments.
  • Maintain a healthy diet to boost your mental and physical health.

In summary, tuberculosis is a severe illness that can impact your quality of life. The best way to reduce mental and physical complications is to listen to your doctor and follow the recommended treatment. Additionally, Affinity Health’s Combined and Hospital plans offer a Daily Illness Hospitalisation Benefit to cover your hospitalisation needs and ease your recovery.

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