With meningitis, the membranes that cover both the spinal cord and brain, called the meninges, become inflamed. Meningitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection, though some patients may have meningitis caused by a fungal infection, injury or cancer. Determining the type of meningitis and administering the proper treatment is important to reduce the risk of complications. With bacterial meningitis, patients may suffer from neurological complications. MedlinePlus noted that viral meningitis usually does not cause lasting symptoms, though in rare cases, patients may develop encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain tissue.
With bacterial meningitis, there are several neurological complications that may occur. Some patients may suffer from brain damage, which can affect normal functioning. For example, the MayoClinic.com stated that memory difficulties and learning disabilities may occur as complications. Behavioral problems may occur in some patients. Other functional losses that may occur as complications of meningitis include blindness, paralysis, hearing loss and speech problems.
Fluid accumulation is a possible issue with meningitis. The cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF, normally surrounds the brain; however, a build up of the CSF can cause damage to the brain. While rare, a complication of meningitis is subdural effusion, in which the fluid builds up underneath the brain's outer lining. Patients with subdural effusion can have an increased head circumference, lethargy, weakness and vomiting. Hydrocephalus, or “water on the brain,” is another complication, in which CSF builds up in the brain, which pushing the brain against the patient's skull, resulting in tissue damage.
Some patients with meningitis develop seizures as a complication. With a seizure, the electrical activity in the brain becomes disturbed, which can affect consciousness, muscle control, vision and sensations. Some of the complications depend on the type of meningitis. For example, MedlinePlus noted that a complication of meningococcal meningitis is myocarditis, in which the muscle of the heart becomes inflamed.
Complications of meningitis may affect other areas of the body. These complications include failure of the kidney and adrenal gland, according to the MayoClinic.com. Some patients may go into shock, in which parts of their bodies do not have an adequate blood flow. With some types of meningitis, death is a possible complication. For example, with meningococcal meningitis, 10 to 15 percent of patients die, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
A.D.A.M. Aseptic Meningitis. MedlinePlus, 2011. Web. 25 April 2011
A.D.A.M. Meningitis. MedlinePlus, 2011. Web. 25 April 2011
Mayo Clinic staff. Meningitis: Complications. MayoClinic.com, 2010. Web. 25 April 2011
A.D.A.M. Subdural Effusion. MedlinePlus, 2011. Web. 25 April 2011
A.D.A.M. Meningitis – Meningococcal. MedlinePlus, 2011. Web. 25 April 2011
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Meningitis and Encephalitis Fact Sheet. 2011. Web. 20 April 2011