Encephalitis and Meningitis

  • Medical Author:
    Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

    Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What is the treatment of encephalitis and meningitis?

Antibiotic and/or antiviral medications need to be considered urgently when the diagnosis of encephalitis or meningitis is suggested. In some situations, anticonvulsants are used to prevent or treat seizures (a possible side effect of inflammation of the brain). Sometimes corticosteroids are administered to reduce brain swelling and inflammation. Sedatives may be needed for irritability or restlessness. Additional medications might be used to decrease the fever or treat headaches. The need for hospitalization usually depends on the type of meningitis the patient has and the severity of symptoms.

What is the prognosis (outlook), and what are the complications for patients with encephalitis or meningitis?

The prognosis for encephalitis or meningitis varies. Some cases are mild, short, and relatively benign and patients have full recovery. Other cases are severe, and permanent impairment or death is possible. This is usually determined by the type of infection present and how quickly treatment can be started. Meningitis can lead to permanent damage to the nervous system and can cause hydrocephalus. The acute phase of encephalitis may last for one to two weeks, with gradual or sudden resolution of fever and neurological symptoms. Neurological symptoms may require many months before full recovery occurs. Some patients will not fully recover.

With early diagnosis and prompt treatment, many patients recover from meningitis. Viral meningitis can be self-limited to 10 days or less. However, in some cases, the disease progresses so rapidly that death occurs during the first 48 hours, despite early treatment.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/16/2015
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