Meningitis: Symptoms & Signs

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Medically Reviewed on 5/18/2017

The symptoms of meningitis arise due to inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can occur due to infections or due to diseases that cause systemic inflammation in the body. Headache and fever are common symptoms. Stiff neck is also a characteristic symptom in adults and older children. These symptoms may come on suddenly and may be severe.

Other symptoms that involve the nervous system can also be present with meningitis. These include seizures, lethargy, confusion, sleepiness, or trouble waking up. Nausea and vomiting can also accompany the symptoms of meningitis. Some patients report sensitivity to light. With some types of meningitis (due to N. meningitides infection), a skin rash may develop.

In infants, the symptoms of meningitis are often much less specific than in older children and adults. Fever, irritability, tiredness, and fussiness can all be related to meningitis in an infant.

Causes of meningitis

Meningitis can be caused by infections of any type. Most commonly, viral infections are the cause of meningitis. Bacterial infections are another common cause, while fungal infections are a less common cause of meningitis. Other conditions that cause inflammation of the meninges include chemical irritation, allergic reactions to drugs, and spread of cancer to the meninges.

Related Symptoms & Signs


Hasbun, Rodrigo. "Meningitis." Feb. 16, 2016. <>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/18/2017
Next Article

Subscribe to MedicineNet's General Health Newsletter

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.