Meningitis itself is not a disease but rather an inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord.1 These membranes are called meninges, hence the name meningitis: mening- for the area affected and -itis to signify an illness. It often begins with flu-like symptoms and develops over several hours or days. Meningitis may be bacterial, viral, chronic or fungal, with a few other uncommon causes. In some cases, meningitis can be life threatening. Adults and newborns may have different symptoms, so their family members should watch for some signs.
Meningitis symptoms in adults:1
- Sudden high fever
- Stiff neck
- Severe headache that seems different than normal
- Headache with nausea or vomiting
- Confusion or difficulty concentrating
- Sleepiness or difficulty waking
- Sensitivity to light
- No appetite or thirst
- Skin rash (such as meningococcal meningitis)
Meningitis signs in newborns and infants include:1
- High fever
- Constant crying
- Excessive sleepiness or irritability
- Inactivity or sluggishness
- Poor feeding
- Bulge in the soft spot on the top of the baby’s head
- Stiffness in the baby’s body and neck
The swelling caused by meningitis often triggers a headache, fever and stiff neck. This is because of the pressure that may be put on the brain and spine due to the inflammation. In most cases in the U.S., meningitis is caused by a viral infection. Some of these cases may improve without treatment, but others may require emergency antibiotic treatment.
The types of meningitis1
- Bacterial meningitis is caused by bacteria that enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain and spine or by bacteria that invades the meninges. A couple of causes of bacterial meningitis include ear or sinus infection or a skull fracture. In rare cases, it may occur after some surgeries.
- Viral meningitis in the United States is most commonly caused by enteroviruses, which are common in late summer and early fall. Other viruses that may cause viral meningitis include HIV, mumps and the West Nile virus. This form of meningitis often clears on its own, and the symptoms typically are mild.
- Chronic meningitis results from slow-growing organism invading the membranes and fluid around the brain. It can develop over two weeks or more, and its symptoms are very similar to those of acute meningitis.
- Fungal meningitis is rather uncommon but can cause chronic meningitis. This form is not contagious. One common fungal form is cryptococcal meningitis, which affects patients with immune deficiencies. It can be life-threatening.
How can MR help with one of the complications of meningitis?
Meningioma may occur as a complication of meningitis and is characterized by a tumor from the meninges.2 Technically, meningioma is not a brain tumor, but it is often considered to be in that category because of the compression on the brain, nerves and vessels. It is the most common tumor that forms in the head.
Dr. Richard Ehman from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and his colleagues have developed a magnetic resonance (MR) technique that may help differentiate hard meningiomas from soft ones.3 This technique is called MR elastography (MRE) and can help surgeons as a pre-surgical tool. In a study by Dr. John Huston III, also from Mayo Clinic, MRE measurements had a positive correlation to the surgeon’s assessment of tumor stiffness during surgery. This could allow the surgeon to prepare for which type of tumor they will face during surgery, whereas they may not have been able to tell the difference before the invention of MRE.
Differentiation between hard and soft meningioma could help improve the surgeon prepare for a long, tedious surgery and one that is easier to dissect. This could help improve the surgeon’s ability to discuss the risks and difficulty of the operation.3 Overall, MRE could potentially help those patients who had complications due to meningitis in any of its forms.
For more information about MRE, please read SIGNA Pulse “MRE of the brain.”
1. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Meningitis.” MayoClinic.org. 8 January 2019. Web. 17 April 2019. < https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/meningitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20350508>.
2. Mayo Clinic Staff. “Meningioma.” MayoClinic.org. 9 March 2018. Web. 17 April 2019. < https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/meningioma/symptoms-causes/syc-20355643>.
3. John Huston III and Fredric B. Meyer. “MRE of the brain.” SIGNA Pulse. Spring 2013. Web. 17 April 2019. <http://www.gesignapulse.com/signapulse/signapulsespring2013?pm=2&pg=10#pg10>.