Meningitis Symptoms

There are several meningitis symptoms which are fairly consistent from patient to patient. Some of the more common symptoms associated with meningitis include:

  • Headache - Most patients with meningitis present with headache. The severity can vary but in bacterial meningitis can be quite sever and many come on relatively quickly.
  • Fever - As with many infectious diseases, fever generally accompanies meningitis. While the temperature can be quite high in patients with bacterial meningitis, a low grade fever is more typical of viral meningitis.
  • Neck pain and/or stiffness - Called nuchal rigidity, patients tend to have a very stiff, painful neck. In fact this is one of the ways that physicians usually examine a patient with suspected meningitis. Flexing the neck can be very difficult in someone with meningitis, even if they are lethargic or comatose.
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Change in Mental Status - Particularly in patients with bacterial meningitis, decreasing consciousness is an important sign of advancing infection. Initially causing lethargy, this can progress to stupor and coma and eventually death if not treated promptly.
  • Other meningitis symptoms - Seizures can result from meningitis. In young children, symptoms such as a bulging fontanel (soft spot on the skull), poor feeding and irritability with fever, and opisthotonos (a characteristic posture with arching of the back), can be seen. Rarely, severe bacterial meningitis can lead to hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus is more common with fungal forms of meningitis.

Viral Meningitis: Generally, patients with viral meningitis present with less severe symptoms. The fever tends to be lower grade, the neck stiffness is less profound and they have little or no alteration in their level of consciousness.

Bacterial Meningitis: Bacterial infection causes a much more severe inflammation and ultimately damage to the meninges and underlying nervous system. Severe headache, high fever, profound neck stiffness and photophobia and rapidly deteriorating mental status are all common. Without treatment, these symptoms will typically progress rapidly and can lead to coma and death.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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