Meningitis is inflammation of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (the meninges). Reports of the illness date back to the 16th century; the disease was first accurately described in 1805 (Rosenstein 2001). Meningitis is characterized by swelling of the meninges; increased pressure inside the skull blocks the flow of blood to the brain, starving the brain of nutrients and oxygen. Encephalitis, which is actual inflammation of the brain, can occur along with meningitis.
People with meningitis usually have fever, severe headache, and stiff neck accompanied by neck pain. Almost any type of movement can cause the neck pain, and it may be impossible to lower the chin to the chest. Seizures are associated with acute forms of the disease. In severe cases, meningitis can be fatal.
Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light, rashes, and weakness. Babies and older adults may not experience stiff neck. However, babies may lose their appetite, have a shrill cry, and be difficult to soothe, or conversely may be extremely sleepy or lethargic.
Symptoms such as tiredness and lightheadedness can last for several months after recovery from the acute form of the disease. Resulting problems range from headache, nausea, loss of balance, and stiff neck to brain damage and hearing loss. Long-term complications include brain damage, hearing loss, vision problems, and persistent seizures.
If meningitis is even remotely suspected, seek immediate medical assistance.
Bacterial meningitis is not a disease to be taken lightly. It is a degenerative, rapidly progressing disease that can result in death or permanent disability. If bacterial meningitis is suspected, patients are urged to see a doctor (go to a hospital emergency department if necessary) for appropriate testing and prompt intravenous antibiotic treatment. Patients with suspected meningitis should get medical care as quickly as possible.