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Dangerous Headaches: Bacterial Meningitis

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Meningitis related image Photo: Getty Images

How can you tell if the headache you’ve got is just a headache or something more? Most headaches are harmless but sometimes they can be a sign of something serious. Bacterial meningitis is one of the serious causes of headaches.

Meningitis (of all types) affects around 3 per 100,000 people and can cause disability or death if treatment is not administered promptly so it could save your life to know the signs.

Symptoms of Bacterial Meningitis

The symptoms of bacterial meningitis are:

• Severe headache
• Stiff neck
• Sensitivity to light
• Fever (over 100.4 F)
• Rash (not everyone has the rash, so if you don’t have a rash, don’t assume it isn’t meningitis)
• Muscle and joint pain
• Pale skin
• Blue lips
• Cold hands or feet
• Shivering
• Nausea and vomiting
• Drowsiness
• Confusion
• Seizures
• Rapid breathing

It may begin with muscular or joint pains, looking pale and feeling cold and shivery and then progress to a very bad headache and other accompanying symptoms.

If you or your loved one has a rash, it is usually blotchy and bright red and it doesn’t fade when you press on it with a glass (this is called the glass test and can be used to determine whether the rash is an ordinary skin rash or may be meningitis).

Babies and Children

Babies and children can have different symptoms. These are:

• Vomiting
• Refusing to breast feed or have a bottle
• Drowsy and difficult to wake up
• Irritability and not wanting to be picked up
• Becoming floppy
• Making jerking movements
• Pale or blotchy skin
• A blank, staring expression
• Unusual or high pitched crying
• A bulging fontanelle (soft spot on the baby’s head).

If your baby or child displays any of these symptoms or you have suffered the early warning signs of muscle pain and feeling cold, followed by a severe headache, you should seek emergency medical advice.

It may be caused by something else, but it doesn’t hurt to check and reassure yourself.

Risk Factors

Certain factors increase the risk of getting meningitis.

Add a Comment3 Comments

I just wanted to say I am sorry to hear about the loss of your son.  Best wishes, Joanna.

February 8, 2012 - 3:19pm

As a parent who lost her 20 year old son to bacterial meningitis, and as the President of the National Meningitis Association, I want to stress the importance of vaccination. This particular type of meningitis shows no mercy. Adolescents and young adults are at increased risk, although no one, anywhere, anytime, is immune. The CDC currently recommends routine vaccination at ages 11-12, with a booster dose 5 years later. All kids entering college should have been vaccinated within 5 years. There are vaccines licensed for those 9 months and older. My 2 year old and 3 year old grandkids have been vaccinated, because my surviving son saw what this disease did to his brother. Protect the ones you love by vaccinating them.

February 8, 2012 - 2:57pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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