What Is NTM Lung Disease?
Nontuberculous mycobacterial lung disease, NTM, is a rare lung infection that can require medical intervention. The types of bacteria that cause these infections can be found in the soil, water, and even the air. To date over one hundred and fifty types of nontuberculous mycobacteria have been identified by scientists. Due to the variations in strains, your doctor can prescribe different medications for treatment.
It is important to note that the presence of bacteria in the lungs isn’t necessarily a sign of infection or active disease. It is prudent for doctors to differentiate temporary colonies of bacterial strains from beginning infections. If left untreated these infections can progress into lung disease. The rate of detection for NTM has risen in recent years due to advancements in detection and treatment methods.
Symptoms Of NTM
The most common symptoms of NTM disease include:
- Weakness and fatigue.
- Chest pain.
- Trouble drawing breath.
- Weight loss.
- Coughing that may contain traces of blood.
As the disease progresses a fevers and night sweats may also begin to occur. It is important to note that any number of these signs could also be indicative of another underlying health condition, such as cystic fibrosis, COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. For an accurate diagnosis a medical examination will be required.
The risk factors of NTM can be difficult to concisely pin down as they vary due to environmental factors and individual risk factors in patients.
- Individual. People who have pre-existing lung diseases, such as COPD, or asthma, have an increased risk for contracting an infection. This is due to the already compromised lungs being unable to expel the initial exposure to the bacteria. Additionally, those with compromised immune systems can also be more susceptible. This includes people with HIV or AIDS, and people undergoing chemotherapy or treatment with antibiotics.
- Environmental. Exposure to the bacteria that cause NTM can be more commonly encountered if an individual participates in swimming, using hot tubs, or gardening. Since the bacteria is found primarily in water, soil, and air, these activities can heighten the chance of exposure.
NTM Lung Disease Treatment
NTM lung disease treatment is dependant on the severity, risk of progression, and presence of comorbid diseases or infections.
NTM lung disease treatment is usually a combination of up to 5 different antibiotics. The amount taken is dependant on the severity and progression of the disease, as well as the strain contracted. Moderate cases may require antibiotics a couple times per week, while severe cases may require daily therapy. If the progression is particularly severe intravenous medications may be given to aid in the recovery therapy. If an IV isn’t possible, nebulized medications may also be given.
The goal of NTM lung disease treatment is to turn the cultures from positive [for the disease] to negative. In order for treatment to be successful, the following may be required:
- Frequent cultures to accurate measure the effectiveness of the therapy.
- A 3 to 6 month assessment to gauge improvement.
- Antibiotic treatment that continues for a minimum of 1 year after cultures test negative. This is to ensure that there is no resurgence of the disease.
- In rare and highly severe cases, surgery to remove a portion of the affected lung may be required. This option is available to those to whom antibiotics aren’t being effective, and whose infection is localized to a particular lobe.
NTM lung disease treatment has a standard success rate of nearly 86 percent. Even with cases where complete treatment isn’t viable, stabilization of the infection is possible. Though there is no treatment to aid the already injured lung tissue, there are steps to prevent future damage so that patients can live long healthy lives.