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. These can vary in severity from person to person, and they can be temporary or permanent.
Usually, the more severe a meningitis infection is, the greater the likelihood of complications. So complications are more common after bacterial meningitis and very 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 to have cochlear implants (small devices that are inserted into your ear to improve your hearing).
See the Health A-Z topic about Hearing impairment for more information about this condition.
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 (debridement). In the most severe cases, it may be necessary to amputate a whole body part, such as a:
See the Health A-Z topic about Gangrene for more information about this condition.
Being treated in intensive care for several weeks can also sometimes cause complications. Some of the common problems that people have reported after leaving an intensive care unit include:
- feeling weak and tired
- having a weak voice
- feeling depressed
See the Health A-Z topic about Intensive care - recovery for more information about the problems that 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 feel anxiety when they are not with a parent
- bed wetting
- disturbed sleep
- aggression or irritability
- feeling despondent (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 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).
See the Health A-Z topic on Counselling for more information about this type of treatment.
Septicaemia (blood poisoning)
Septicaemia (another name for blood poisoning) refers to a bacterial infection of the blood.