The symptoms of meningitis arise due to inflammation of the meninges, the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can occur due to infections or due to diseases that cause systemic inflammation in the body. Headache and fever are common symptoms. Stiff neck is also a characteristic symptom in adults and older children. These symptoms may come on suddenly and may be severe.
Other symptoms that involve the nervous system can also be present with meningitis. These include seizures, lethargy, confusion, sleepiness, or trouble waking up. Nausea and vomiting can also accompany the symptoms of meningitis. Some patients report sensitivity to light. With some types of meningitis (due to N. meningitides infection), a skin rash may develop.
In infants, the symptoms of meningitis are often much less specific than in older children and adults. Fever, irritability, tiredness, and fussiness can all be related to meningitis in an infant.