Authored by Revere Health


December 20, 2016 | Neurology


The brain and spinal cord are important and sensitive areas of the body. Most of our reflexes and neurological impulses come from this region, and within it are a few fragile areas which need to be protected carefully.

Even seemingly minor issues in this area can create problems throughout the body. One example is meningitis, a disease that causes inflammation of membranes that surround both your brain and spinal cord. These membranes are called “meninges”, and their inflammation can lead to basic symptoms like headaches or aching – but in some cases, symptoms and complications can be extreme and require immediate medical attention.

Let’s find out more about meningitis and its effect on the brain and spinal cord.


Types and Causes of Meningitis

There are many kinds of infections that cause meningitis. In fact, these causes are different enough that they’re used to designate different “types” of the disease. These types are:

  • Viral meningitis: This is the most common type of meningitis, and in most cases it’s usually also the mildest. Several types of viruses can cause meningitis, the most common of which are called enteroviruses. In many cases, viral meningitis lingers for a short time before clearing up without any treatment.
  • Bacterial meningitis: Bacterial meningitis has two causes. First, bacteria can enter the bloodstream through normal channels and travel to the brain and spinal cord. Second, bacteria can directly enter the meninges and infect them (this is usually caused by an issue like an ear infection or a fracture in the skull). There are several strains of bacteria that can cause meningitis, and most can be cured with the right vaccine.
  • Fungal meningitis: Not common, but can lead to chronic meningitis issues over time.
  • Parasitic meningitis: Also uncommon, caused by parasites in the body.
  • Amebic meningitis: Extremely rare but also extremely severe, amebic meningitis is an infection of the brain caused by ameba found in water and soil.


Symptoms and Complications

Meningitis can develop in both children and adults, but it’s most common in people under 20. Some of the early symptoms may seem like the flu including:

  • Fever, headache, nausea
  • Aches in the head and neck
  • Seizures
  • Light sensitivity, issues sleeping
  • Lack of appetite

Newborn babies can also get meningitis, and they may show similar symptoms along with extreme crying, issues with feeding and a bulge in the soft spot on the top of their head.

In some cases, these symptoms are mild and only last for a short period before they take care of themselves. In others, though, meningitis can be extremely serious if left untreated. Some of the worst complications that can result include:

  • Memory and learning losses, and other brain damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Kidney failure
  • Gait
  • Shock or even death


Risk Factors

While there are direct causes of meningitis, there are also a few things that can increase your overall risk:

  • Age – most bacterial cases are seen in people under 20, most viral cases in children under 5 years old
  • Pregnancy
  • Frequent time spent in large groups (bacteria spreads more easily)
  • Lack of vaccinations or weak immune system


Diagnosis and Treatment

A doctor will give you a basic physical exam where he or she looks for visible signs of infection. In most cases, your doctor will also order some kind of diagnostic test – a blood test, an imaging test (X-ray or CT scan) or a spinal tap. A spinal tap is the only way to know with 100 percent certainty that someone has meningitis, though modern technology allows doctors to be pretty confident in most cases using other methods.

Treatments of meningitis depend on its cause:

  • Viral: Usually cures on its own, but basic rest and fluid intake can help.
  • Bacterial: Antibiotics, and a kind of steroid treatment called corticosteroids help make sure symptoms don’t last long.
  • Others: Other causes are more rare, and are usually treated on a case-by-case basis.


Revere Health Neurology specialists treat patients with a variety of neurological disorders.




The Live Better Team

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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.