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Symptoms may vary by the type of meningitis you have, but here’s what to look for.

Meningitis is a very serious illness that causes inflammation of the protective lining surrounding the brain or spinal cord. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. It can also be caused by non-infectious conditions, such as head injuries, brain surgery, cancer or certain medications. If you think you may have meningitis, it’s important to get medical attention right away.

Common Symptoms of Meningitis

Symptoms of this condition may be different in adults, children and babies. They may also be different depending on what type of meningitis you have. The most common symptoms in adults and children include:

  • Fever
  • Severe headache
  • Neck stiffness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Lack of appetite
  • Extreme sleepiness or difficulty waking
  • Confusion/altered mental state
  • Flat marks on the skin that look like a rash

Not everyone has every symptom. Fever, severe headache and neck stiffness are the most common ones. In some types of meningitis, such as bacterial meningitis, symptoms can appear suddenly and may worsen rapidly.

In babies, the most common symptoms of meningitis include:
  • Acting fussy
  • Vomiting
  • Not eating well
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking
  • Having no energy
  • A bulging soft spot on the baby’s head

If you or a loved one have symptoms of meningitis, go to the emergency room. Although not all types of meningitis escalate quickly, bacterial meningitis can progress very fast and may even lead to sepsis. This can be extremely serious and may even be life-threatening.

How is meningitis treated?

Treatment for meningitis depends on what caused it. If meningitis is caused by bacteria, antibiotics are prescribed. Antivirals can treat some viral causes of meningitis and antifungals are used to treat fungal meningitis. There are no specific treatments for other types of meningitis. Medications may be used to reduce inflammation or relieve symptoms. The underlying cause of the meningitis may also be treated.

The sooner you are treated for meningitis, the more likely treatment will be successful. The prognosis for meningitis depends on what type of meningitis you have and how severe it is. Most people make a full recovery although the road to recovery can be long. Some people have long-lasting or permanent health issues after having meningitis. Bacterial meningitis is more likely to cause lasting health effects than other types of meningitis and can be one of the most serious types of this condition.


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Date Last Reviewed: August 17, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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