With prompt treatment, meningitis should not cause serious complications. Early treatment, especially for bacterial meningitis, is very crucial to prevent serious damage from the disease. While new treatments work more effectively, the issue of the recurrence may make you worry. Can the disease come back years later?
Brief summary of meningitis
The word meningitis refers to a condition whereby you have swelling (inflammation) of protective membranes that cover your brain and spinal cord. Medically, these membranes are also called ‘meninges’.
Your brain and spinal cord, together, form a complex system called the ‘central nervous system’. This system is responsible for many body functions. Even we can say that it runs the whole show. For examples; it is responsible to regulate talking, thinking, walking, emotions, memory, etc – as well as what you do automatically such as breathing and digesting food!
So any problem that affects this system could be fatal, especially if the problem is out of control. The same goes for meningitis. Sometimes it cause serious complications or even become life-threatening.
The inflammation of meninges in meningitis can be caused by several causes. The most common one is infections, especially viral infections.
In fact, viral meningitis accounts about 60-80 percent of all cases. The good news, it usually doesn’t cause serious problem. Many times people can fully recover from the disease without developing any serious complication, though sometimes it could also turn into serious.
Other infectious causes are bacterial and fungal infections. Bacterial meningitis is more dangerous, because it tends to leave lingering effects which some can be serious and life-threatening. Therefore, it must be treated immediately. The longer someone with the disease without treatment, the greater the risk of serious complications to occur! See also long-term effects of meningitis!
Early prompt treatment is also necessary for fungal meningitis. But fortunately, it’s rare (not as common as bacterial meningitis)!
Meningitis can also be caused by non-infectious causes. These include non-infectious disorders (such as systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and certain cancers), certain medications /antibiotics /vaccines, or injury. But overall, these conditions are rarely associated with meningitis. In other words, non-infectious meningitis is not common (rare).
Since early treatment is very crucial for the outcome of the disease, see a doctor promptly if you have any symptom of the disease!
Though it’s not always easy to tell meningitis apart from milder conditions, here are some common symptoms to remember:
- Unusual skin rash. It usually doesn’t easily fade even though under pressure, see more in here! This symptom is common in people with bacterial meningitis.
- More sensitivity to light.
- Stiffness, particularly in the neck. Neck stiffness can signal that something is going wrong with your central nervous system.
- And seizures, this is particularly true if the disease has become advanced.
Additional symptoms include: severe headache (it may come with nausea /vomiting), difficulty concentrating, sudden high fever, drowsiness (difficulty waking), thirst, or appetite loss. In babies, the disease may also cause fontanel (a bulging soft spot on the baby’s head), constant crying, poor feeding, inactivity, and irritability.
With prompt treatment, including bacterial meningitis, the complications of the disease is preventable. After treatment, another issue that takes attention is the risk of the recurrence.
Can meningitis come back years later?
Most cases of the disease are acute, in which it usually lasts less than a month (4 weeks). Acute meningitis is mostly caused by viral infections. But though it is faster to relieve, it can present abruptly and the symptoms could be severe enough to interfere with your daily life!
Sometimes the disease become chronic, meaning it will last more than a month or even a year! It usually develops slowly. The symptoms may come and go. Chronic meningitis, especially if the cause is bacterial infections, is more likely to leave lingering effects.
Occasionally, some people have more than one episode of meningitis (also called as ‘recurrent meningitis’). The disease can come back years later. The risk of this recurrence can vary from person to person.
Recurrent meningitis can be attributed by several causes. In general, these include bacteria, viruses, or something else.
Meningitis associated with bacterial infection may come back when certain conditions (an unrepaired injury or/and birth defect, for example) allow bacteria to easily enter the space between meninges. This unrepaired injury /defect could be:
- In the meninges surrounding the spinal cord (especially in the lower back or neck),
- In the base of the skull, a prone area where bacteria elsewhere in the body (particularly such as from the bone behind the ear, sinuses, or middle ear) can enter more easily.
Typically, recurrent bacterial meningitis doesn’t strike suddenly. Instead, it’s more likely to develop gradually that may take months or even years. Here are other things to remember: