Tuberculosis (TB) can be deadly if a person does not receive treatment. However, the majority of people who undergo treatment have a good outcome.

Certain risk factors, such as having HIV or other health conditions that suppress immunity, can increase the risk of unfavorable outcomes. Delaying treatment also poses a challenge to recovery, so receiving prompt treatment is important for maximizing the chance of survival.

The article discusses whether TB is deadly, the chances of survival, and how to improve the likelihood of survival. It also answers commonly asked questions.

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TB is an infection with the microbe Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which usually affects the lungs. When someone does not receive treatment, TB can be fatal. In fact, without treatment, the mortality rate is higher than 50%. It is the leading cause of death from infections worldwide.

Factors that affect risk of death

The following factors may make recovery more challenging and increase a person’s risk of complications or unfavorable outcomes:

  • being an older adult, young child, or infant
  • a delay in treatment
  • use of a mechanical ventilator for breathing
  • extensive spread of the infection from the lungs to other parts of the body
  • immunosuppression that can result from HIV or long-term use of medications that decrease immunity

An additional factor that affects outcomes is drug resistance, which happens when the medications that treat TB no longer kill the bacterium that causes it. Treatment of such cases is complex, and inappropriate management can result in death.


TB can cause serious complications, which occur more often in people with risk factors. These include:

  • extensive lung destruction
  • acute respiratory distress syndrome, which is the buildup of fluid in the lungs, preventing them from filling with air
  • empyema, which is the accumulation of pus in the space between the lungs and the surrounding membrane
  • systemic amyloidosis, which is the buildup of the protein amyloid in the organs, preventing them from working correctly
  • damage to cervical sympathetic ganglia leading to Horner’s syndrome, which is the disruption to a nerve pathway that affects one side of the face and head
  • miliary spread, which refers to the dissemination of TB to multiple parts of the body
  • pneumothorax, or collapsed lung, which occurs when air leaks into the space between the lungs and the wall of the chest

The majority of people with TB who receive treatment have a good outlook. This is due to the effectiveness of treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that there were 8,331 TB cases in the United States in 2022. In 2021, the infection caused 602 deaths.

The most important way to increase the likelihood of surviving a TB infection is to take the treatment as early as possible after diagnosis, since a delay raises the risk of an unfavorable outcome.

Even people with inactive or latent TB should take treatment if they have one of the risk factors for complications, such as older age or HIV. The latent form of the condition does not make someone feel sick, but the bacterium that causes TB still lives in their body. Treatment can help prevent the latent form from becoming active and causing symptoms of TB.

Quit smoking

Additionally, quitting smoking may help. According to a 2020 review, smoking increases the risk of infections, including TB. It also worsens the progression and outcome in a dose-dependent way. This means that the more a person smokes, the faster the disease progresses and the less favorable their outlook becomes. The authors recommend quitting smoking to reduce the risk.


A healthy diet also plays a role in survival.

An older 2009 review involving research on humans and animals found that good nutrition and a well-balanced diet link to faster recovery and more favorable outcomes.

Below are answers to some common questions:

How does TB kill you?

TB cases are typically mild, and most people with the condition have a good outlook. In certain cases, such as those where a person has severe respiratory difficulties or delays treatment, TB can cause extensive lung destruction and other serious lung conditions. This affects a person’s ability to breathe.

Is TB curable?

Treatment with medications can almost always cure the condition. Usually, treatment involves a combination of antitubercular medications that a person takes for several months.

What is the life expectancy of a person with TB?

An older 2014 study investigated the longevity loss among people who were cured of TB. The authors found that people who received full treatment had an average life expectancy that was 3.6 years shorter than that of people who did not contract TB.

These findings emphasize the importance of TB prevention. Still, many variables can affect a person’s life expectancy and each patient’s specific case of TB.

A 2020 cohort study concluded that active TB was associated with an average longevity loss of 7 years.

Among people who do not receive treatment, the mortality rate of TB is higher than 50%. Yet the majority of those who undergo treatment tend to have a good outlook.

TB can cause serious complications that affect the ability to breathe. The complications are more likely to occur in individuals with suppressed immunity, such as those with HIV.

An additional difficulty that can pose a challenge to recovery is drug resistance.

To increase the likelihood of survival, a person should get prompt treatment and engage in healthy lifestyle practices, such as eating a well-balanced diet and abstaining from smoking.