Better Understanding NTM Lung Disease


Mycobacteria are tiny pathogens that mainly survive in naturally occurring bodies of water and the soil that surrounds them. Usually, they pose no problem to any of the humans or animals who come in contact with them. There are over 190 species in this genus of bacteria. Not all of them act in the same way. One particular species, which is called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is responsible for the contagious tuberculosis disease that humans can easily become infected with. Any other species in the genus that don't cause tuberculosis are simply referred to as nontuberculosis mycobacteria (NTM). If nontuberculous mycobacteria enter the lungs, they can cause serious damage that can affect a person's ability to breathe though. It is important to understand what the main causes, symptoms, and treatment options of an NTM lung disease are.

Causes of an NTM Lung Disease

Nontuberculous mycobacteria have to be breathed into the lungs for a person to be affected by them. So those who garden or spend time near lakes and rivers have the highest risk of developing lung diseases from them. However, they usually have to have a poorly functioning immune system or some other type of lung disease for the bacteria to have a serious impact on their health. Research has shown that Caucasian women who are tall and slender seem to develop lung diseases from nontuberculosis mycobacteria more often if they also have a heart condition called a mitral valve prolapse. That is because their damaged mitral valve seems to attract bacteria and allow it to flow into the bloodstream more easily.

Symptoms of an NTM Lung Disease

The first sign that a person has developed an NTM lung disease is fatigue from their lungs not being able to oxygenate the blood as well as they normally would. Then, their lungs will begin to fill up with fluid because the body will naturally increase mucus production to attempt to flush the bacteria out of the lungs. The extra mucus will cause a bad cough that may contain blood in it though. Night sweats, weight loss, and shortness of breath are also common. So is a fever because the immune system increases the body's core temperature as a method of killing off bacteria and viruses. It is important to mention that if a person has any other health conditions along with an NTM lung disease, the symptoms of them may mask the condition.

Treatment of an NTM Lung Disease

There are two main problems that doctors have to address when it comes to treating an NTM lung disease. The first one is that those who get this condition usually have a poorly functioning immune system. That means that it won't be easy for them to fight off any type of infection. The second problem is that the bacteria are resistant to many antibiotics. So the only way to rid the body of them is often to prescribe two or three antibiotics for a person to take at the same time. Most antibiotics are only given for ten-day increments. But with this condition, an infected person may need them for up to a year because of the high rate of reinfection that commonly occurs with it.

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