Meningitis Center

Meningitis Symptoms

Symptoms of meningitis
A person experiencing meningitis may have a fever, headache, sensitivity to light, and stiff neck.  But sometimes symptoms of meningitis are even more severe.  As meningitis may result in brain damage and stroke by blocking blood vessels to the brain, it's important to notice symptoms of meningitis and get a diagnosis quickly. 

Early symptoms of meningitis
During the early stages of meningitis, symptoms may be confused for influenza (the flu).  Early symptoms, developing over one or two days, include:

  • confusion, or difficulty concentrating
  • explosive vomiting (without prior nausea)
  • high fever
  • lack of interest in drinking and eating
  • seizures
  • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • severe headache
  • skin rash in some cases, such as in viral or meningococcal meningitis
  • sleepiness or difficulty waking up
  • stiff neck
  • vomiting or nausea with headache

Symptoms of meningitis in children
Babies and young children may exhibit different symptoms than adults, including:

  • a bulge in the soft spot on top of a baby's head (larger, anterior fontanel)
  • constant crying, and crying hard when they are picked up
  • excessive sleepiness or irritability
  • inability to maintain eye contact
  • lack of appetite
  • slowness (or, being inactive)
  • stiffness in the baby's body and neck
  • vomiting

Seizures may occur as the infection progresses in patients of all ages.  Meningitis can further damage organs of the body and be life-threatening.  Adrenal gland failure, behavioral problems, blindness, hearing loss, kidney failure, learning disabilities, and speech loss can also occur due to meningitis.

When to seek help
Because meningitis can be life-threatening, it is important to seek immediate medical attention if you suspect that you or someone else has meningitis.  Additionally, if you are in relatively close proximity to someone who has meningitis, it is important to get screened by a doctor, since some types of meningitis can be spread from person to person.  Learn more about how doctors diagnose bacterial, viral meningitis and other types of meningitis in the Diagnosing Meningitis section now.

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