Bacterial meningitis can place tremendous strain on the body and the brain. It is estimated that a quarter of people with meningococcal disease (the combination of meningitis and blood poisoning) will have complications.
Complications can vary in severity from person to person, and can be temporary or permanent.
Usually, the more severe a meningitis infection is, the greater the likelihood of complications. Complications are more common after bacterial meningitis and rare after viral meningitis.
Possible complications include:
- hearing loss, which may be partial or total
- problems with memory and concentration
- problems with co-ordination and balance
- learning difficulties, which may be temporary or permanent
epilepsy - a condition that causes someone to have repeated fits
cerebral palsy - a general term for a set of conditions that affect movement and co-ordination
- speech problems
vision loss, which may be partial or total
As hearing loss is the most common complication of meningitis, people recovering from the condition are usually given a hearing test to assess their hearing. The test should be carried out before you are discharged or within four weeks of being well enough to have the test.
Children and young people should discuss the results of their hearing test with a paediatrician (a doctor who specialises in treating children). This should take place four to six weeks after you are discharged from hospital. If your hearing is severely affected, you may need cochlear implants (small devices inserted into your ear to improve your hearing).
Read more information about hearing impairment.
If bacteria have also entered the blood, they can produce toxins (poisons) that kill healthy tissue. If the tissue damage is severe, it will die and become gangrenous.
Gangrenous tissue will need to be surgically removed in a procedure called debridement. In the most severe cases, it may be necessary to amputate a whole body part such as a:
Read more information about gangrene.
Being treated in intensive care for several weeks can also sometimes cause complications. Some of the common problems people have reported after leaving an intensive care unit include:
- feeling weak and tired
- having a weak voice
- feeling depressed
Read about recovering from intensive care for more information about problems you may experience, and the help that is available.
Having meningitis can be a traumatic experience, particularly for young children. Many people's psychological and emotional behaviour may change.
Possible psychological effects include:
- becoming 'clingy' and needing to be near a loved one - for example, a child feels anxiety when not with a parent
- disturbed sleep
- aggression or irritability
- feeling dejected or hopeless
- temper tantrums
- developing a fear of doctors and hospitals
These effects should improve with time as you or your child recover, but some people may need additional therapy to cope.
Talk to your GP if you are anxious about your child's behaviour, or if you are having psychological complications.
Your GP may be able to refer you to the mental health services for treatment such as counselling (a talking therapy), or they may refer your child to a childhood psychologist (a healthcare professional who specialises in the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions in children).
Read more information about counselling.