Meningitis: A Headache that Should Be Treated

Sometimes, the symptoms are so mild that the disease can go unnoticed and patients self-medicate with a painkiller.
image of the neurons in the brain
Juan Manuel Escamilla, neurologist, and professor from the TecSalud system, explains other warning symptoms. (Illustration: Getty Images)

To understand what meningitis is, the first thing you need to know is that the meninges are the tissue membranes that are found between the brain and the cranium.

Juan Manuel Escamilla, neurologist and professor from the TecSalud system, defines the meninges as an envelope, a kind of protective bubble. These meninges are divided into three layers: dura mater, arachnoid, and pia mater, which is the closest to the brain.

What is Meningitis?

“The meninges are important because they are highly vascularized tissues that nourish the brain with blood vessels. When they become inflamed, this is called meningitis,” explains Escamilla.

This inflammation can be caused by viruses, fungi, and bacteria, which carry a different degree of danger. In any case, the most common symptoms are headache, vomiting, and even fever.

“Meningitis occurs at certain times of the year. It’s more frequent during changes in the weather, such as in the fall, when new viral loads come. There is also an increase during spring,” says the TecSalud specialist.

Sometimes meningitis is so mild that the disease can go unnoticed or patients self-medicate with a headache pill.

“But the warning symptoms that make people go to the doctor are when the headache does not subside –even though you take painkillers– and when a fever appears,” he explains.

Although it is not common for meningitis to cause death, if patients let the symptoms progress it can cause more serious problems. When the virus reaches the brain, it becomes inflamed, causing seizures and mental alterations.

“There can be sequelae with serious brain infections. Some years ago, when there wasn’t much knowledge, a complication in childhood could cause deafness. Now, we treat them more promptly,” says Escamilla.

Due to the speed with which the infection progresses, the most serious meningitis is bacterial, especially that caused by meningococci. However, it is preventable because vaccines exist.

Aseptic or Viral Meningitis

When a virus causes meningitis, it is classified as aseptic meningitis, which is commonly caused by an enterovirus (a virus that produces mild to serious influenza-like symptoms).

“Anyone can pick the up them through the airway, through the respiratory system, or through the digestive tract and they reach the meninges. There are no vaccines, as there are many variants,” explains the neurologist.

The symptoms of this type of meningitis last from five days to a week and are not usually as serious as those caused by bacteria or fungi.

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