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Understanding Meningitis -- Symptoms

While meningitis is rare, it's a serious and potentially life-threatening disease. So it's a good idea to know typical meningitis symptoms. The most common are: 

  • Stiff neck, sometimes so stiff that it's difficult to touch the chin to the chest
  • Headache, sometimes severe
  • High fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Discomfort from bright lights
  • Sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Rash

Sometimes, these symptoms follow a flu-like illness, ear infection, or sinus infection.

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Helping Kids Who Fear Vaccines

When your young child whimpers at the mention of the word "shot," you probably have mixed feelings. You want your son to be protected by his vaccinations; you just wish that the procedure was pain-free. "Vaccines protect the health and well-being of children, but children don't understand that," says Deborah Wexler, MD, executive director of the Immunization Action Coalition, a national organization based in St. Paul, Minn. "It can be really hard for them to come in for their shots." Fortunately,...

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If your child is too young to talk, you may have a hard time detecting some of these symptoms. So in infants and young children, the only evident meningitis symptoms might be:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty feeding
  • High-pitched cry
  • Pale or blotchy skin
  • Crying when held
  • Arching back

The speed with which meningitis symptoms develop varies. Bacterial meningitis symptoms come on quickly, usually over a period of hours. With viral meningitis, symptoms might develop over several days.

When to See a Doctor

Of course, what's disturbing about the above list of meningitis symptoms, especially for a parent, is that most are incredibly common. 

So here's one important thing to keep in mind. Beyond any of the specific meningitis symptoms, children or adults with bacterial meningitis -- the most serious type -- usually become very ill very quickly.

Even though the odds of getting meningitis are very small, you should still err on the side of caution. If you or a family member have been exposed to meningitis or have worrisome meningitis symptoms, give your health care provider a call. If the meningitis symptoms seem severe, go to the emergency room right away. Getting prompt treatment for meningitis can make all the difference.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on March 30, 2013

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