What is meningitis?
Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain. There are three meninges, including the following:
Dura mater - the outside membrane that adheres to the inside of the skull.
Arachnoid - the middle membrane.
Pia mater - the innermost membrane, which adheres to the brain.
What causes meningitis?
There are two distinct types of meningitis, each with different causes:
Viral - caused by a virus
Bacterial - caused by a bacterium
How does the infection reach the brain?
The infection can reach the brain via several different routes, including through the bloodstream from another infected part of the body, through the bones of the skull from infected sinuses or inner ears, or from a head injury, such as a fractured skull or penetrating wound. In particular, this occurs when the body's resistance is compromised by certain factors such as following surgery or an extended hospitalization, a weakened immune system, or as a result of chronic kidney failure.
What are the symptoms of meningitis?
The following are the most common symptoms of meningitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Photophobia (low tolerance to bright light)
Joint aches or pains
Symptoms for children may also include:
Pale, blotchy skin color
Not wanting to eat
Fretful and fussy
Difficult to wake
It is important to note that these symptoms may not occur all at once, nor in everyone who contracts meningitis. The symptoms of meningitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
How is meningitis diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for meningitis may include the following:
Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) - a special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord.
Computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.