Acute meningitis: Introduction
Acute meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that encases and bathes the brain and spinal cord. Acute meningitis is a serious disease that can be life-threatening and result in permanent complications, such as coma, shock, and death. Acute meningitis develops very quickly in a matter of hours or days. In contrast chronic meningitis takes weeks or months to develop.
Acute meningitis can be caused by a variety of infectious pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. Acute meningitis caused by a bacteria is called acute bacterial meningitis and is generally the most serious type of acute meningitis. One serious form of acute bacterial meningitis is caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis, which causes a type of acute meningitis called meningococcal disease. Meningococcal disease has developed into scattered epidemics in Africa and pandemics in Asia. It also can cause outbreaks in places of crowded living conditions, such as college dormitories or on military bases.
Other bacterial causes of acute meningitis include Streptococcus pneumonia, Haemophilus influenza. Group B streptococci, Enterobacteriaceae and Listeria monocytogenes.
The pathogens that can cause acute meningitis are carried by humans in the nose and throat and are spread into the air by coughing and/or sneezing. Once pathogens are airborne, they can be picked up by anyone who breathes them into their respiratory tract. The pathogens then spread from the respiratory tract to the blood stream and to the nervous system.
Symptoms of acute meningitis include a high fever and stiff neck, and serious complications can occur. In some cases death can happen in a matter of days. For more information on symptoms, refer to symptoms of acute meningitis.
Making a diagnosis of acute meningitis begins with taking a thorough personal and family medical history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination. Diagnostic tests include a lumbar puncture, also called a spinal tap, which involves withdrawing a small sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the spine with a needle. The sample of CSF is tested for white blood cells and other indications of acute meningitis.
A complete blood count (CBC) is also performed is measure the numbers of different types of blood cells, including white blood cells (WBCs). Different types of WBCs increase in number in characteristic ways during an infectious process, such as acute bacterial meningitis.
Additional tests may be performed in order to rule out or confirm other diseases that may accompany acute meningitis or cause similar symptoms, such as high fever, headache, and neck stiffness. These may include a throat culture, CT, or X-rays.
It is possible that a diagnosis of acute meningitis can be missed or delayed because some symptoms, such as fever, headache, and nausea and vomiting, are similar to symptoms of other diseases. For more information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of acute meningitis.
Treatment of acute meningitis includes hospitalization, generally in an intensive care setting, and the intravenous administration of antibiotics if it is caused by some type of bacteria. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of acute meningitis. ...more »
Acute meningitis: Acute meningitis is an inflammation of the brain that presents in an acute fashion. The inflammation may be the result of infective agents such as bacteria, viruses and fungi as well as non-infective agents such as certain drugs. Acute forms of meningitis can develop in within hours or days whereas chronic meningitis develops over weeks or months.
More detailed information about the symptoms,
causes, and treatments of Acute meningitis is available below.
Acute meningitis: Symptoms
The symptoms of acute meningitis can resemble symptoms of other diseases, such as influenza. They include fever, headache, stiff neck, irritability, and nausea and vomiting. Symptoms can develop rapidly and dramatically, within minutes to hours. Fever can be very high and the headache can be intense. There may also be sensitivity to light, and a purple or red rash may appear.
...more symptoms »
Acute meningitis: Treatments
The first step in treating acute meningitis is preventing its occurrence and spread. A vaccine to prevent acute bacterial meningitis caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis is available for children and certain persons at risk for the disease. They include travellers who go to high risk areas of the world and people, such as military personnel and ...more treatments »
Acute meningitis: Misdiagnosis
A diagnosis of acute meningitis may be delayed because some symptoms, such as headache, stiff neck, and fatigue, may initially be assumed to be related to another less serious condition. These include influenza, tension headache, muscle strain in the neck, or migraine headache. Unfortunately, acute meningitis, especially acute bacterial meningitis, can ...more misdiagnosis »
Symptoms of Acute meningitis
See full list of 28
symptoms of Acute meningitis
Treatments for Acute meningitis
- Measures to reduce pressure within the brain. If meningitis is causing pressure within the brain, corticosteroid medicines such as dexamethasone may be given to adults or children
- Measures to reduce fever. Medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), fluids, and good room ventilation reduce fever
- Measures to prevent seizures. Medicines such as phenobarbital or dilantin can help stop seizures
- Oxygen therapy
- more treatments...»
See full list of 6
treatments for Acute meningitis
Home Diagnostic Testing
Home medical testing related to Acute meningitis:
- Child Behavior: Home Testing
- Child General Health: Home Testing
Wrongly Diagnosed with Acute meningitis?
Acute meningitis: Related Patient Stories
Acute meningitis: Complications
Review possible medical complications related to Acute meningitis:
Causes of Acute meningitis
- The types of bacteria that cause bacterial meningitis vary by age group
- In premature babies and newborns up to three months old- group B streptococci Escherichia coli (carrying K1 antigen)
- Newborns- Listeria monocytogenes (serotype IVb)
- Older children- Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus), Streptococcus pneumoniae (serotypes 6, 9, 14, 18 and 23)
- Under five years of age- Haemophilus influenzae type B
- more causes...»
See full list of 6
causes of Acute meningitis
More information about causes of Acute meningitis:
Acute meningitis: Undiagnosed Conditions
Commonly undiagnosed diseases in related medical categories:
Misdiagnosis and Acute meningitis
Mild worm infections undiagnosed in children: Human worm infestations, esp. threadworm, can be overlooked in some cases,
because it may cause only mild or even absent symptoms.
Although...read more »
Undiagnosed stroke leads to misdiagnosed aphasia: BBC News UK reported on a man who
had been institutionalized and treated for mental illness
because he suffered from sudden inability to speak....read more »
Sinusitis is overdiagnosed: There is a tendency to give a diagnosis of sinusitis,
when the condition is really a harmless complication of another infection,
such as a common cold....read more »
Whooping cough often undiagnosed: Although most children in the Western world have been
immunized against whooping cough (also called "pertussis"), this protection wears
off...read more »
Dementia may be a drug interaction: A common scenario in aged care is for
a patient to show mental decline to dementia.
Whereas this can, of course, occur due to various...read more »
Mesenteric adenitis misdiagnosed as appendicitis in children: Because appendicitis is one of the
more feared conditions for a child with abdominal pain, it can be over...read more »
Blood pressure cuffs misdiagnose hypertension in children: One known misdiagnosis issue
with hyperension, arises in relation to the simple...read more »
Mild traumatic brain injury often remains undiagnosed: Although the symptoms
of severe brain injury are hard to miss,
it is less clear for milder injuries, or even those causing a mild concussion diagnosis....read more »
MTBI misdiagnosed as balance problem: When a person has symptoms
such as vertigo or dizziness, a diagnosis of brain injury may go overlooked.
This is particularly true of mild traumatic...read more »
Brain pressure condition often misdiagnosed as dementia: A condition
that results from an excessive pressure of CSF within the brain is often misdiagnosed.
It may be misdiagnosed as Parkinson's disease or dementia (such as Alzheimer's...read more »
Post-concussive brain injury often misdiagnosed: A study found that soldiers who had
suffered a concussive injury in battle often were misdiagnosed on their return.
A variety of symptoms can occur in post-concussion syndrome and these were...read more »
Children with migraine often misdiagnosed: A migraine often fails to be
correctly diagnosed in pediatric patients.
These patients are not the typical migraine...read more »
Vitamin B12 deficiency under-diagnosed: The condition of Vitamin B12 deficiency
is a possible misdiagnosis of various conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (see symptoms of...read more »
Read more about Misdiagnosis and Acute meningitis
Acute meningitis: Research Doctors & Specialists
Research related physicians and medical specialists:
- Nerve Specialists:
- Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists:
- Neurology (Brain/CNS Specialists):
- Child Health Specialists (Pediatrics):
- more specialists...»
Other doctor, physician and specialist research services:
Hospitals & Clinics: Acute meningitis
Research quality ratings and patient safety measures
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Hospital & Clinic quality ratings »
Choosing the Best Hospital:
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on hospital performance and surgical care quality:
Acute meningitis: Rare Types
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Acute meningitis: Animations
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Prognosis for Acute meningitis
Prognosis for Acute meningitis:
Untreated, bacterial meningitis is almost always fatal.
More about prognosis of Acute meningitis
Acute meningitis: Broader Related Topics
Types of Acute meningitis
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