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10 Common Symptoms of Meningitis

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Meningitis is when your brain and spinal cord membranes become inflamed, usually due to a viral, fungal, or bacterial infection. The inflamed meninges cause severe pain.

Meningitis is rare, with less than 200,000 cases diagnosed each year in the United States.

Meningitis may not require treatment, unless it is life-threatening and requires antibiotics. Vaccinations can prevent some forms of meningitis.

Symptom 1: Fever

Do you have a fever, but cold hands and feet? Do you have chills? Shiver? Meningitis symptoms can occur quickly or within a few days.

According to the National Meningitis Association, one patient stated: “In March 2012 I was at the gym and slipped in the steam-room hitting my head. I passed out for a few minutes but eventually made it to the hospital. Three months later I was slowly riding my bike when a pedestrian stepped in front of me and grabbed my handlebars, I fell, hit my head, and fractured my hip and pelvis. That summer I inexplicably broke out in hives all over my body. By November I was fatigued, running a low fever. I went to the doctor several times.  He couldn’t find much wrong with me. A few days later I was still sick, so I went back, they took blood and the next morning I got a call telling me to get to the emergency room as soon as possible, my white blood count was dangerously high. I remember having a terrible fever in the ER, it hit 105.9. My eyes were unfocused, and I wasn’t able to respond to simple commands. My respiration rate became irregular. That’s the last thing I remember. I fell into a coma for two weeks.”

Symptom 2: Pain

Do you have severe pain? Especially in your back, muscles, or neck? Is your range of motion and ability to move affected?

According to the National Meningitis Association, one patient stated: “On July 11, 2011, feeling nothing worse than a bad cold, I became ill with meningococcal infection and eventually fell victim to septic shock, and nearly died. For me, the journey began on a Thursday – June 24, 2011 – in Albany, when I underwent a significant amount of dental work. What was intended to be a protracted procedure scheduled over several weeks was instead accomplished by two different dentists in approximately two hours. Two days later, a process which seemed to cause me no problems in the short run was now the source of great pain. By Saturday night, the pain became excruciating, and on Sunday morning, I called the dentist for direction on what to do next, and he prescribed an antibiotic. By this time, I was alternating fever and chills. I spent the next four or five hours passed out, and when I awoke, I had an abscess the size of a Chiclet on the roof of my mouth.”

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Symptom 3: Headache

Do you have a severe headache? The swelling from meningitis can cause headaches.

According to Ask Dr. Sears, “This is one of the most feared illnesses that worry many parents. Anytime a child complains of a headache and has a fever, the thought goes through the parent's mind, “Could this be meningitis? Is it going around right now? Is my child going to have brain damage?” 

Symptom 4: Stiff Neck

Is your neck stiff? Painful? Difficult to move or bend?

A stiff neck is one of three main symptoms people with meningitis experience.

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Symptom 5: Fatigue

Are you drowsy? Is it hard to wake up? Chronic fatigue often occurs with meningitis. It can last months or even years.

According to Meningitis Now, “Vicky Ross, 32 of Renfrewshire, suffered many symptoms, including a high temperature, extreme dehydration, aching muscles, and extreme fatigue, when she contracted viral meningitis in November 2014.” She described her experience: “On the 4th November 2014 I came home from work and was supposed to be going for a meal for my birthday, but I felt extremely tired so went straight to bed instead. I felt like I had a really bad flu, with aching muscles, fatigue and a high temperature. I didn't make an appointment to see my GP until seven days had passed with no improvement, believing I would get better on my own. I was sweating excessively during the night and waking up severely dehydrated. I was struggling to work, not being able to get through the day because I was so tired. At times I had to put my head on the desk for hours at a time because the fatigue was overwhelming."

Symptom 6: Loss of Appetite

Do you not feel like eating? The inflammation and other symptoms of meningitis can make you lose your appetite.

Also, meningitis can make you less thirsty. So, it is important to stay hydrated.

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Symptom 7: Lethargy/Malaise

Do you lack energy? Don’t feel like doing anything?

According to Healthline, “Lethargy is a symptom that causes you to feel sleepy or fatigued and sluggish. This sluggishness may be in terms of movements or in thinking.”

Symptom 8: Nausea/Vomiting

Are you nauseated? Feel like you need to vomit?

The inflammation and other symptoms from meningitis can cause you to have nausea and vomit.

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Symptom 9: Rash

Do you have blotchy or red rashes on your skin? Does it not fade under pressure?

According to Patient.info, “A typical rash is common with meningococcal infection but does not always occur. The rash is red or purple. Small spots develop at first and may occur in groups anywhere on the body. They often grow to become blotchy and look like little bruises. One or two may develop at first but many may then appear in different parts of the body.” 

Symptom 10: Breathing/Heart Rate

Are you breathing fast? Is your heart rate and pulse fast, as well?

According to Meningitis Now, “Two-year-old Bella, from Alfreton in Derbyshire, went to hospital five times before her meningitis was diagnosed. But it was the best Christmas present the family could have wished for when she finally responded to treatment.” Bella’s dad stated: “I took Bella home and the symptoms continued. We couldn't get her temperature down, she continued to vomit and was lifeless and fatigued. The next morning the rash was still there, so I rang the GP back and this time they advised me to call an ambulance. The paramedic arrived within minutes and started checking Bella over. Her temperature was still peaking at 40, her heart rate was up, she was still not eating and vomiting as she lay lifeless on our sofa".

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