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5 Signs Of Meningitis You Should Know. By Rachel Reiff Ellis.

5 Signs Of Meningitis You Should Know. By Rachel Reiff Ellis.
  • June 11 2017

1. You feel like you have the flu.

It's not unusual to have a fever and feel unwell any time your body's fighting off germs. But it can be one of the first signs of meningitis, says Susan Even, MD, executive director of the University of Missouri Student Health Center. If you're out of energy, feverish, nauseous, and have a headache that gets steadily worse and doesn't respond to medication, trust your gut. Meningitis can move fast, so if things just feel wrong, bad, or out of the ordinary, don't wait—see a doctor.

2. Your neck is stiff.

It's not like the crick in your neck that you got from sleeping funny last night. The pain from that kind of neck strain tends to stick to a specific area and gets better when you massage it or apply heat. Meningitis neck pain feels different. It gets worse when you stretch, and can involve more than just your neck and shoulder area. "Moving the neck up or down stretches the inflamed tissues of the meninges, which causes an intense, deep pain that may extend into the head or down the back," says Even.

3. Light hurts your eyes.

If you find yourself shielding your gaze from daytime light—or even squinting in well-lit rooms—take note. "Photophobia, or discomfort when bright light shines into the eyes or even with fully open eyes, is likely related to inflammation of the optic nerve in the back of the eye," says Even. Usually, you'll have a headache along with your aching eyes.

4. You're dazed and confused.

Your doctor might call it an "altered mental state," which essentially means that you have trouble thinking straight. When infection is surrounding your brain, you can feel foggy and have problems concentrating. "It may be hard for you to explain what symptoms you're having or follow simple directions, and you may not know where you are," says Even. It's a symptom to take seriously, so get to a doctor immediately.

5. You're seeing spots (on your skin).

Rashes are like a red flag telling you something's up, and the small purplish dots that signal meningitis are no exception. Rash is a late and very serious sign that tells you you've got the bacterial kind of meningitis. It appears when the bacteria release a toxin into your system that makes small blood vessels in your skin and internal organs rupture. But it's unlikely that it would appear without other symptoms already in play. 

"By the time the rash appears, it may be too late," says Even. "There can be organ damage, nerve damage to the brain, loss of fingers, toes or even arms or legs from the ruptured blood vessels and the damaged tissue." If you're already experiencing other problems and suddenly spots appear on your skin, it's time to head for the ER.