What is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a potentially life-threatening infection of the meninges, the brain linings that protect the brain and spinal cord. Most cases are caused by one of three bacteria, including Streptococcus strains.

However, fungal infections, viruses, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and parasites can also cause the condition. Serious inflammation puts pressure on the brain and spinal cord, causing the patient to fall into a coma. Vaccines can prevent most bacterial forms and some viral causes.

What are the Symptoms of Meningitis?

The viral and bacterial forms are particularly likely in children, but older adults can experience all the major forms of meningitis. While symptoms vary based on the age of the patient and the cause of the condition, some of the most common signs of a meningitis infection are:

  • Stiffness of the neck
  • Tenderness of the muscles (difficulty turning; maneuvering)
  • Stomach pain and vomiting
  • Sudden fever
  • Extremely painful headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Seizures

In very young children and babies, body stiffening and bulging in the head is a sign of inflammation. Toddlers may seem to have a case of the flu or a cold, with coughing and wheezing.

How is Meningitis Treated?

For serious bacterial infections, immediate transfusions of strong antibiotics are essential to save the patient’s life. Fungal infections are treated similarly with different drugs, but viral infections must pass on their own.

Patients without complications usually recover from viral meningitis at home with over-the-counter medication to treat inflammation and pain. Babies and elderly adults need a doctor’s attention even if they’re getting better on their own. Supportive treatments like IV fluids, breathing lines, and heart monitors are used in severely ill patients to try to save their lives as the meningitis passes.

Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
August 30, 2017