Meningitis Symptoms: Top 10 Signs, Diagnosis & Treatment

Meningitis symptoms typically include high fever, intense headache, neck pain, difficulty moving the pain, and inability to lower your chin to the chest. Some people may also present with light sensitivity, noise sensitivity and confusion. 

Meningitis is characterized by inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain. This swelling can be caused by a virus, bacteria, fungus or parasites, or it can be non-infectious and caused by direct head trauma. 

If you notice possible signs or symptoms of meningitis, it is important to see a family doctor, infectious disease specialist or neurologist for consult. The doctor will evaluate your symptoms and order testing to determine the presence of infection and the underlying cause of it. 

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What are the symptoms of meningitis?

The most common symptoms of meningitis are:

  1. Sudden high-grade fever
  2. Headache that does not resolve
  3. Nausea and vomiting 
  4. Neck pain and difficulty moving the pain
  5. Dizziness and difficulty concentration
  6. Confusion
  7. Inability to lower your chin to the chest
  8. Light and noise sensitivity 
  9. Drowsiness and fatigue
  10. Lack of appetite and thirst 

Symptoms of meningitis can appear anywhere between 2 and 10 days after initial contact with the infectious agent. However, they most commonly appear 3 to 4 days after infection. 

Meningitis symptoms in babies 

Babies under the age of 2 will present with a high grade fever, as well as symptoms like: 

  • Constant crying
  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness
  • Lethargy 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Body and neck stiffness 

Babies under one with soft fontanels may present with a swollen head, similar to a lump from a bump on the head. Meningococcal meningitis can also cause a red rash on the body, seizures and paralysis. 

Who is most at risk?

People with a higher risk for meningitis will typically have a weakened immune system, either from age (like babies and older adults) or chronic diseases. These conditions impede the immune system’s ability to function at a full capacity, which allows for a higher change of inflammation of the meninges and development of infection. 

Confirming a diagnosis

The initial diagnosis of meningitis is started with an assessment of signs and symptoms. The doctor may ask you to demonstrate specific neck movements and will ask if you have pain or discomfort, as neck stiffness is present in almost all cases of meningitis. 

To confirm a diagnosis, the doctor will order a culture of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) which is collected through a lumbar puncture. The specimen is analyzed in the lab for bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi which are commonly associated with meningeal inflammation. 

The doctor may also order complementary bloodwork, urine tests and imaging, like a CT scan or MRI. 

Treatment options

Treatment for meningitis is done in a hospital setting with IV medication. Depending on the infectious agent, the doctor may prescribe IV antibiotics, antifungals, antiparasitics or antivirals. 

Treatment in the hospital is important so that vital signs can be continuously monitored. This can help to prevent complications and to monitor the efficacy of treatment, as changes to doses may be necessary to ensure full elimination. 


The main way to protect yourself from meningitis is by ensuring vaccination is up-to-date. The meningitis vaccine protects against many types of meningitis, and is recommended in newborns and children up to 12 years of age. 

Frequent hand hygiene and keeping environments well-ventilated and clean can also prevent meningitis transmission.