Ethambutol for tuberculosis

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Ethambutol is one of several medicines you will need to take to treat tuberculosis (TB).

It is important that you take your doses regularly.

If you develop any problems with your eyesight, you must let your doctor know about this straightaway.
Type of medicineAn antituberculosis medicine
Used forTuberculosis (TB)
Also calledEthambutol hydrochloride
Available asTablets

Ethambutol is used to treat tuberculosis (TB). TB is a bacterial infection which is mostly found in the lungs but which can affect any part of your body. TB is treatable with a course of medicines which need to be taken for six months. You will need to take several medicines to treat TB - ethambutol is one of the medicines prescribed during the first two months of the treatment.

Ethambutol will be prescribed for you by a doctor who specialises in the treatment of TB. It is important that you take it regularly.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine can only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start taking ethambutol, it is important that your doctor knows:

  • If you are pregnant or breast-feeding. (Although ethambutol is not known to be harmful to babies, it is still important that you tell your doctor if you are expecting or breast-feeding a baby.)
  • If you have any problems with your eyesight.
  • If you have any problems with the way your kidneys work.
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines which are available to buy without a prescription, as well as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • Before you start the treatment, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. It will give you more information about ethambutol and will provide you with a full list of the side-effects which you could experience from taking it.
  • Ethambutol will be prescribed for you in one of two ways - you will either be asked to take one dose every day, or, one dose three times a week. Your doctor will tell you which way is right for you. If you are asked to take one dose three times a week, you will be supervised while you take the doses. This is called directly observed therapy (DOT).
  • If you are taking ethambutol every day, try to take your doses at the same time of day each day, as this will help you to remember to take ethambutol regularly. Your doctor will tell you how many tablets to take for each dose, as this will be individually tailored to suit you and depends upon your weight. It is important that you take ethambutol exactly as you are told. You can take the tablets either with or without food. If you forget to take a dose at your usual time, take it as soon as you remember, but do not take two doses on the same day to make up for a missed dose.
  • It is important that you keep your regular clinic appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can check on your progress. Your doctor may want you to have blood tests from time to time during the treatment to make sure you have just the right amount of the medicine in your bloodstream.
  • Continue to take the tablets regularly - do not stop taking ethambutol unless your doctor tells you to stop. This is because it is important for you to complete the course of medicine so that the infection does not come back. Your treatment with ethambutol will last for two months (unless you develop troublesome side-effects).
  • Ethambutol can stop the oral typhoid vaccine from working properly. If you are due to have any vaccinations, make sure that the person treating you knows you are taking this medicine. Also, if you are due to have an operation or any dental treatment, you should tell the person carrying out the treatment that you are taking medicines for TB.
  • If you buy any medicines 'over the counter', check with a pharmacist that they are suitable for you to take alongside your prescribed medicines. Antacid remedies for indigestion which contain aluminium hydroxide are not suitable while you are taking ethambutol.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. The table below contains the most common ones associated with ethambutol. You will find a full list of side-effects in the manufacturer's information leaflet supplied with the medicine. If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to the tablets, please speak with your doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

Ethambutol side-effectsWhat can I do if I experience this?
Eyesight problems such as colour blindness, blurred vision, poor vision, some loss of visionContact your doctor straightaway. Your doctor will want to review your treatment, as you will need to stop taking ethambutol
  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital at once. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.

Do not keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

  • Manufacturer's PIL, Ethambutol 400 mg Tablets; Peckforton Pharmaceuticals, The electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated June 2015.
  • British National Formulary; 71st Edition (Mar-Sep 2016) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Adrian Bonsall
Document ID:
28486 (v2)
Last Checked:
Next Review:
The Information Standard - certified member

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