By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Meningitis, especially which is caused by bacteria, is a life threatening condition and needs urgent treatment.
Complications of meningitis
Complications are more common after bacterial meningitis and very rare after viral meningitis. Complications with meningitis may be temporary or permanent. They may be short or long term.
Complications of meningitis include:
- Around a quarter of people with meningococcal disease may develop septicaemia or blood stream infection and develop several complications.
- Hearing loss is a commonly dreaded complication. Loss may be partial or complete. Before being discharged from the hospital or within four weeks of being well enough to take the test, patients need a hearing test.
- There may be problems with memory and concentration.
- There can be short or long term problems with co-ordination and balance.
- Problems with speech and vision. There may be partial or complete loss of vision.
- There may be gangrene if there is septicaemia due to meningitis. This leads to production of toxins in the body that kills the healthy tissues especially of the fingers, toes or a limb. The limb may need to be amputated due to gangrene.
- Mental ailments and problems like depression, anxiety weakness and fatigue may be detected as a complication of meningitis.
Complications of meningitis in children
- When new-borns are affected, there is a risk of cerebral palsy. This leads to a set of symptoms affecting movement and co-ordination.
- Since meningitis commonly affects children there may be learning difficulties that may be temporary or permanent.
- Many children with meningitis may develop epilepsy that leads to repeated seizures.
Children after a bout of meningitis may:
- become “clingy” or suffer anxiety when left alone
- develop disturbed sleep
- aggression or irritability
- have nightmares
- develop temper tantrums
- feel low and develop a fear of doctors and hospitals
Overall there may be behavioural and learning problems in children after a meningitis episode.
Prognosis of bacterial meningitis
Untreated bacterial meningitis is almost always fatal. With treatment the risk of death is reduced.
In new-borns the risk of death with treatment is 20 to 30%, in older children it is around 2% with treatment. The death risk is higher for adults even with treatment at 19 to 37%. Many adults may go on to develop disabilities like deafness (14%) and memory loss (10%).
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)