Meningitis: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Meningitis is the acute inflammation of the meninges. Meninges are protective layers covering the brain and the spinal cord. It occurs when the fluid around the meninges gets infected. Common symptoms are fever, headache, neck stiffness, occasional confusion, altered consciousness, vomiting, and an inability to tolerate light or loud noises. Meningitis caused by bacteria may be accompanied by a characteristic rash. Meningitis caused by bacteria can be life-threatening. Several drugs can also cause meningitis.

Meningitis is more common among children, teenagers, and elderly people. To diagnose meningitis, lumbar puncture can be performed. Some forms of meningitis are preventable by immunization, antibiotics or corticosteroids. In 2015, meningitis occurred in about 8.7 million people globally.

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How Does Meningitis Affect Your Body?

The effect that meningitis has on the body can differ depending upon the age, health, severity, and cause of meningitis. In infants, rashes, seizures, vomiting, and fever are common symptoms. Also, the fontanelles may appear bulged or firm due to the increased pressure of the fluid around the brain. Ocular and facial nerves may be affected, causing the eye to turn in, or the face to appear lopsided. In young people and adults, a rise in bodily temperatures increases sensitivity to light, confusion, fever, and tightness in the neck muscles. In other cases, pressure on the brain causes vomiting or swelling.

What Are The Causes of Meningitis?

Following are the causes of meningitis:

  • Bacterial meningitis – When bacteria enter the bloodstream, they travel to the brain and spinal cord causing acute bacterial meningitis. Meningitis can also occur when bacteria directly invade the meninges. This is caused by a ear or sinus infection, or after some surgeries, although rarely. Strains of bacteria that can cause acute bacterial meningitis are Streptococcus pneumonia, Neisseria meningitidis, and Haemophilus influenzae.
  • Viral meningitis – This is caused by a group of viruses and enteroviruses which are most common in late summer and early fall. This often clears on its own. Herpes virus, HIV, mumps, West Nile virus and others can also cause viral meningitis.
  • Chronic meningitis – Fungi and Mycobacterium tuberculosis that invade the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain, cause chronic meningitis. Chronic meningitis develops over two weeks or more and the symptoms include a headache, fever, vomiting and mental cloudiness, similar to those of acute meningitis.
  • Meningitis can also result from chemical reactions, drug allergies, some types of cancer and inflammatory diseases such as sarcoidosis.
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What Are The Risk Factors of Meningitis?

  • Missed vaccinations – Anyone who has not completed the recommended childhood or adult vaccination schedule may get this disease.
  • Age – Meningitis, especially viral meningitis, is most common in children. Bacterial meningitis mostly occurs in teenagers.
  • Pregnancy – There is an increased risk of listeriosis during pregnancy which may cause meningitis.
  • Compromised immune system – Factors that affect the immune system may make one susceptible to meningitis. These factors include AIDS, consumption of alcohol, diabetes, immunosuppressant drugs, and removal of the spleen.

What Are The Symptoms of Meningitis?

Characteristic symptoms of meningitis are fever, severe headache, and neck stiffness. Others symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Drowsiness
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Poor appetite
  • Seizure and coma

In infants, fever, irritability, poor feeding, and lethargy are the most common symptoms. Also, a soft spot on the top of the head may bulge out.

Symptoms of a meningococcal infection that has entered the bloodstream are as follows:

  • Abnormal skin color
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Rashes
  • Muscle ache or joint pain
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chills
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How is Meningitis Diagnosed?

  • Blood test – Blood cultures spot growth of microorganisms, particularly bacteria. A sample may also be stained to study for bacteria, under a microscope.
  • Imaging – CT or MRI scans of the head are performed to check for swelling or inflammation of the brain. X-rays or CT scans of the chest or sinuses may help to look for infection in areas that may be associated with meningitis.
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture) – Lumbar puncture is done to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF of infected people often shows a low sugar (glucose) level, increased white blood cell count, and increased protein. This may also help to identify which bacterium caused meningitis.
  • DNA test – If viral meningitis is suspected, then a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification may be run to check for antibodies against certain viruses to determine the specific cause and a proper treatment.

How to Prevent And Control Meningitis?

  • Wash your hands – This helps to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Practice good hygiene – Every individual, especially children, must learn that personal belongings should not be shared.
  • Stay healthy – Exercising regularly and eating healthy food strengthens the immune system.
  • Cover your mouth – Covering the mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing can prevent the spread of germs.
  • Pregnancy – Avoiding cheese made from unpasteurized milk, and consuming well-cooked meat reduces the risk of listeriosis during pregnancy.

Treatment of Meningitis – Allopathic Treatment

  • Bacterial meningitis – Acute bacterial meningitis is treated immediately with IV antibiotics, and sometimes by corticosteroids. This helps in reducing the risk of complications, such as brain swelling and seizures.
  • Viral meningitis – Viral meningitis resolves on its own. Bed rest and consumption of plenty amount of liquid are usually advised. Over-the-counter medications for pain are prescribed only to reduce fever and relieve body aches. Antiviral medicines are given if the herpes virus caused meningitis.
  • Corticosteroids – This is prescribed to reduce swelling in the brain.
  • Anticonvulsant – This helps to control seizures.
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Treatment of Meningitis – Homeopathic Treatment

  • Aconite – It is for patients who develop meningitis due to long exposure to sunlight. It is also given to those who suffer from cerebral congestions due to excessive anger.
  • Apis mellifica – This is given to patients who suffer from nervous agitation, shrill cries, and complain of stabbing pains.
  • Baptisia tinctoria – This remedy is chosen when obvious mastoid is found to develop and there is tenderness in the area.
  • Belladonna – It is used to treat the initial stages of meningitis when cerebral irritation is the characteristic symptom. Mostly, children are found crying and grinding their teeth.
  • Bryonia – This is for treating meningitis when there is a distended abdomen, white tongue, excessive thirst, flushed face, etc.

Meningitis – Lifestyle Tips

  • Always cover your face while going out.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat healthy and nutritious food.

What Are The Recommended Exercises For a Person With Meningitis?

Physiotherapy is recommended for patients affected with meningitis.

Meningitis And Pregnancy – Things to Know

  • Pregnant women are at a risk of developing listeriosis; an infection caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria.  
  • Such women only experience fever and other flu-like symptoms like fatigue and aches.
  • Infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, and premature delivery. It may also cause a life-threatening infection of the newborn, including meningitis.
  • Pregnant women can reduce the risk of meningitis by avoiding certain foods, and safely preparing meals.
  • Sometimes, pregnant women can pass group B Streptococcus to the baby during labor and delivery. This infects the newborn with group B strep which can develop meningitis or other life-threatening infections.

Common Complications Related to Meningitis

  • Hearing loss
  • Difficulty in memorizing
  • Learning disabilities
  • Brain damage
  • Gait problems
  • Seizures
  • Kidney failure
  • Shock
  • Death


Q. Can anyone get meningitis?

A. Children under the age of 5 years are at greater risk of having meningitis; however teenagers and elderly people can also suffer from it.

Q. Can you get meningitis more than once?

A. There are several different causes of meningitis and therefore it is possible, but rare, to have this disease more than once.

Q. Is meningitis seasonal?

A. It was studied that the cases of bacterial meningitis rise during winter, and the number of cases of viral meningitis rise during summer.

Q. What is a meningococcal disease?

A. Meningococcal bacteria can affect the body in different ways, and it causes both – meningitis and septicemia. This is known as the Meningococcal disease.

Q. What are the after-effects?

A. Majority of people recover completely, but some experience after effects like epilepsy, mood swings, disruptive behavior, change in vision, and memory loss.

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