The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by layered membranes, known as meninges, and cerebrospinal fluid. In certain instances, this lining becomes inflamed and the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is also affected. This condition is known as meningitis and may increase pressure on the brain and spinal cord, causing a range of generalized and localized symptoms. Meningitis is a serious condition and is potentially fatal.

What are the symptoms of meningitis?

Signs & Symptoms of Meningitis

The most common symptoms of meningitis are a severe headache, neck stiffness and a high fever. However the fever is usually present in infectious meningitis, which is caused by microbes, and it may not be present in non-infectious meningitis that may be caused by drugs or other diseases. Other symptoms of meningitis may be non-specific and often leads to a late diagnosis of meningitis if it is confused with other diseases. These signs and symptoms include :

  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Unusual sensitivity to light

The patient may also complain of sensitivity to other stimuli like sound. If the patient recently suffered with a fall or trauma to the head and neck, some of these symptoms may be confused with a concussion.

What is the cause of meningitis?

Causes of Meningitis

Most cases of meningitis is due to an infection. A viral infection is the most common cause but bacteria and fungi may also be involved.

Bacterial Meningitis

This usually causes an acute case of meningitis and can be traced back to a source of infection starting elsewhere in the body. Acute bacterial meningitis is fast acting and there are many cases of infection within a hospital setting, raising the risk of infection with multi-drug resistant bacteria.

Viral Meningitis

A viral cause of meningitis is the most common infectious meningitis. It is likely to spread among persons in close quarters, especially among schoolchildren. There may be other viral infections like mumps and shingles present or viral meningitis may occur on its own. A viral meningitis may also present with other signs and symptoms like a skin rash, joint pain and/or sore throat.

Fungal Meningitis

This is an uncommon form of meningitis, most often seen in HIV/AIDS patients. It is a slow infection but is just as fatal as viral or bacterial meningitis.

Non-infectious Meningitis

This may be caused by drugs and other diseases like systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disorder commonly known as SLE or lupus.

How is meningitis diagnosed?

Diagnosis of Meningitis

The signs and symptoms should alert your doctor of the possibility of meningitis. Clinical examination will reveal a positive Kernig’s and/or Brudzinski’s signs, which are clinical markers of the possibility of meningitis. However further testing may be required to confirm the diagnosis. This usually involves a CT scan to determine the extent of swelling and the site most affected.

In the case of infectious meningitis, your doctor may also conduct a lumbar puncture. Here a needle is inserted between the lumbar vertebrae and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is withdrawn. This is then tested for proteins and microbes.

How is meningitis treated?

Treatment of Meningitis

Meningitis should be treated according to the cause of the inflammation. In the case of an infection, antibiotics, antifungal or antiviral drugs may be needed. Hospitalization may be necessary depending on the cause and severity of the infection, although a mild case of meningitis can be managed at home with strict bed rest and good nutrition.