Recognizing signs of meningitis: 8 symptoms you should be aware of
Meningitis is an acute inflammation of the protective membranes covering the spinal cord and brain. The disease can be caused by both bacteria and viruses, which is why the disease can be transmitted from person to person through kissing, coughing, and sneezing.
People with a weak immune system or auto-immune problems are particularly prone to catching the disease. Insect bites can also lead to viral meningitis, with young children and newborns being particularly at risk. Usually transmitted by bacteria in the gut, two out of 1,000 babies suffer from the disease. However, older children can also become infected easily.
The symptoms of meningitis can vary or be similar to those of other illnesses, such as the 'flu or an infection. That's why it's important to carefully monitor the illness's progression in people who could be infected. The following list outlines the most common complaints that could be due to meningitis. And if the symptoms don't improve or instead become worse, you should consult a doctor immediately.
1. Sudden fever
Sudden fever that's accompanied by shivering could be a possible sign of meningitis. In this instance, the sick person's body temperature is very high and it's very difficult to bring it down. Yet since fever is your body's natural defense mechanism against many illnesses, you should look out for other symptoms of meningitis, too.
2. Stomachaches, nausea, and vomiting
If the person is suffering from stomachaches or any gastrointestinal problems, you should again keep your eye on other accompanying symptoms. Have they eaten something bad or very fatty? Or is there no explainable reason for the problems? If the issues are unexplainable and they're suffering from other symptoms, it's best to see a doctor.
3. Bad headaches and light sensitivity
People who suffer from migraines know about these two problems all too well. If you're having unbearable headaches and feeling extremely sensitive to light, this could the sign of a migraine. However, these two symptoms — either alone or in combination — could also point to meningitis.
A clearer sign for meningitis is rashes that break out on the sick person's skin. Of course, rashes can also be due to allergies or atopic dermatitis. If you're unsure, you can perform a simple test to find out whether you need to go to a doctor...
Take a clean glass and press it firmly against the rash until it fades. If the rash turns pale with the rest of the skin, it's most probable that you don't have meningitis. But if the rash doesn't fade, you should have a doctor take a look at it.
5. Blurred vision
Since meningitis affects several bodily functions, this can lead to a number of dysfunctions. For example, some meningitis sufferers have trouble focussing their eyes on their surroundings, causing blurred vision.
Important: even if no other symptoms of meningitis are present, you should still go to a doctor when your vision deteriorates; vision impairment is always a serious issue that needs to be examined by a doctor.
6. The Brudziński neck sign
Polish doctor Józef Brudziński observed a certain phenomenon in children suffering from meningitis. If you bend the child's head forward toward its chest, both of its legs instantly bend at the knees. In this position, it's not possible to stretch the legs back out as they start to cramp up. It's only when the head is brought back to a level position that the legs relax again. If this symptom is present, you should consult a doctor immediately.
7. Drowsiness and disorientation
If the sick person is feeling drowsy or appears disorientated to you, you should consult a doctor immediately. These symptoms should not be taken lightly. If no action is taken and the person is suffering from meningitis, the risk of slipping into a coma increases.
8. Stiff neck
If you're not injured, a stiff neck that you can barely move could be a sign of meningitis. If this is the case, the lack of movement is caused by the meninges being swollen and irritated.
The signs are sometimes difficult to interpret. It's often the case that there's another cause for the symptoms. So if you're ever in doubt and the symptoms don't improve, you should always consult a doctor.