Meningitis: When should one seek medical advice?

By  , Expert Content
May 23, 2012

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Meningitis is infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges). In most cases, meningitis is caused due to bacterial or viral infection. Meningitis is considered as a medical emergency and is an extremely serious type of infection that may result in death or permanent brain damage even if treated. Delay in treatment increases the risk of complications such as brain damage, hearing loss and death.

Consult a doctor if there is one or more of the following symptoms suggestive of some serious medical problem:

  • significant body pain (pain in the muscles, joints or limbs such as in the legs or hands that lasts for more than a few days)
  • cold extremities (hands and feet) or pale or blotchy skin and blue discoloration of lips
  • severe throbbing or splitting headache
  • nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting (may be recurrent)
  • feeling generally unwell, tired and lethargic
  • stiff neck (less common in young children)
  • sensitivity to light (being unable to tolerate bright lights that is photophobia)
  • fast breathing rate
  • red rash on skin (that may or may not  fade or change colour when you place a glass against it)
  • In infants and small children: floppy and unresponsive child, highly irritable child, not wanting to be held, unusual crying (not becoming comforted on being picked-up or held), vomiting and refusal to feeds, very sleepy or drowsy (with a reluctance to waking up).  

If you have high temperature with one or more of the above symptoms, do not ignore them. Consult your doctor immediately. These are some signs and symptoms of meningitis, but many of these symptoms are observed in many other conditions. Your doctor can diagnose the cause of your illness and treat you accordingly.

Consult a doctor immediately if you or any of your loved ones has any of the following symptoms:

  • drowsiness and confusion
  • seizures or fits, stiff with jerky movements
  • floppy and unresponsive child
  • blank or staring expression and
  • swelling in the soft part of head (fontanelle) in small children.

Who to consult

Some health professionals, who can be consulted for your symptoms include:

  • general physicians
  • family doctor
  • paediatrician
  • physician assistants and
  • internists.

As meningitis is infectious (i.e. it can spread from one person to another), consult your doctor if you have been in contact with an infected person. Contacts of the infected person at risk of infection may be given a dose of antibiotics as a precautionary measure to prevent meningitis.



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