Depending on the cause, meningitis can be life-threatening. If you've been exposed to someone with bacterial meningitis and you develop symptoms, go to an emergency room and let medical staff know you may have meningitis.
If you're not sure what you have and call your doctor for an appointment, here's how to prepare for your visit.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre- or post-appointment restrictions. At the time you make the appointment, be sure to ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as restrict your diet. Also ask if you may need to stay at your doctor's office for observation following your tests.
- Write down symptoms you're having, including changes in your mood, thinking or behavior. Note when you developed each symptom and whether you had cold or flu-like symptoms.
- Write down key personal information, including any recent moves, vacations or interactions with animals. If you're a college student, your doctor likely will ask questions about any similar signs or symptoms in your roommates and dorm mates. Your doctor will also want to know your vaccination history.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements you're taking.
- Take a family member or friend along. Meningitis can be a medical emergency. Take someone who can help remember all the information your doctor provides and who can stay with you if you need immediate treatment.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
For meningitis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- What treatment do you recommend?
- Am I at risk of long-term complications?
- If my condition is not treatable with antibiotics, what can I do to help my body recover?
- Am I contagious? Do I need to be isolated?
- What is the risk to my family? Should they take preventive medication?
- Is there a generic alternative to the prescription medicine you're recommending?
- Do you have any printed information I can have? What websites do you recommend?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
- When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
- How severe are your symptoms? Do they seem to be getting worse?
- Does anything seem to improve your symptoms?
- Have you been exposed to anyone with meningitis?
- Does anyone in your household have similar symptoms?
- What is your vaccination history?
- Do you take any immunosuppressant medications?
- Do you have other health problems, including allergies to any medications?
What you can do in the meantime
When you call your doctor's office for an appointment, describe the type and severity of your symptoms. If your doctor says you don't need to come in immediately, rest as much as possible while you're waiting for your appointment.
Drink plenty of fluids and take acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) to reduce your fever and body aches. Avoid aspirin and drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, which may not be safe for people with untreated meningitis. Also avoid any medications that may make you less alert. Don't go to work or school.
March 19, 2013
- Meningitis and encephalitis fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/encephalitis_meningitis/detail_encephalitis_meningitis.htm. Accessed Dec. 29, 2012.
- Bacterial meningitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/bacterial.html. Accessed Jan. 2, 2013.
- Bartt R. Acute bacterial and viral meningitis. Continuum Lifelong Learning in Neurology. 2012;18:1255.
- Viral meningitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/viral.html. Accessed Jan. 2, 2013.
- Fungal meningitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/fungal.html. Accessed Jan. 2, 2013.
- Derber CJ, et al. Head and neck emergencies. Medical Clinics of North America. 2012;96:1107.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed Dec. 28, 2012.
- Acute bacterial meningitis. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic_disorders/meningitis/acute_bacterial_meningitis.html. Accessed Dec. 31, 2012.
- Prevention — Listeriosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/prevention.html. Accessed Jan. 2, 2013.
- Subacute and chronic meningitis. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic_disorders/meningitis/subacute_and_chronic_meningitis.html. Accessed Jan. 2, 2013.
- Van de Beek D, et al. Advances in treatment of bacterial meningitis. The Lancet. 2012;380:1693.
- Recommended immunization schedule for persons aged 0 through 18 years — United States, 2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/child-adolescent.html. Accessed Feb. 19, 2013.
- Recommended adult immunization schedule — United States, 2012. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/adult/adult-schedule.pdf. Accessed Dec. 28, 2012.
- Meningococcal vaccine: Who and when to vaccinate. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd-vac/mening/who-vaccinate-hcp.htm. Accessed Dec. 28, 2012.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.