Symptoms of Meningitis

3d illustration of viruses attacking nerve cells, concept for Neurologic Diseases, tumors and brain surgery.

Recognizing and treating meningitis very early on is extremely important, especially in the case of bacterial meningitis. Unfortunately, it can be easy to mistake the symptoms for those of the common cold, or influenza. The symptoms can develop over the course of a few hours, or over a couple of days; learn what to look out for so you can potentially save lives.

In adults and children (in this case, anyone over two years old), the first symptoms include a high fever, cold hands and feet, and drowsiness and vomiting; there’s often a severe headache, but it feels different than the average headache. Muscle pain and loss of both appetite and thirst are common, as is confusion, which may at first be attributed to fever – the same problem as many of the symptoms previously listed. Most of them are shared with the flu, which can delay diagnosis. Two symptoms that may help you set it apart, however, are photosensitivity and a stiff neck: a person with meningitis will often become sensitive to lights, especially bright ones, and have pain or stiffness when they try to turn their neck side to side.

A distinctive skin rash is another indication of meningitis. This rash is a grouping of red or purplish spots or pinpricks, which may take on the color of a bruise; using “the glass test” can help you determine if it’s a meningitis rash. You can perform this test by pressing a clear glass against the rash – if it doesn’t fade or turn white under the pressure, seek medical help immediately. It’s essential to note that you shouldn’t wait for a rash to appear, however; by the time it appears, the illness could have advanced to a dangerous stage.

Symptoms of this condition in babies are also important to watch for, especially since they’re unable to tell you how they feel. As with adults, they will have a fever along with cold hands and feet, and will likely refuse food and seem drowsy or hard to wake. They may also be fussy and dislike being handled, or be unusually limp and unresponsive. Rapid breathing or moaning can indicate they’re in pain; a stiff, painful neck and sensitivity to light affect them as well as adults. The earliest signs of a rash are pale, blotchy skin, on which the rash may appear, but again, don’t wait for that to happen. Finally, their “soft spot” on the head may bulge or feel tense.

Meningitis, depending on the form, can be deadly or contagious, so seek immediate medical help if you or your child is experiencing these symptoms.


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