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Measles - Complications of measles

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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There are many complications that can develop due to measles, although some are much rarer than others.

Complications resulting from measles are more likely to develop in certain children, including:

  • children with a weakened immune system, such as those with leukaemia or AIDS
  • children with a poor diet
  • children under the age of five

Complications are also more likely to develop in adults who are over the age of 20.

Common complications

Some of the common complications of measles are:

Inner ear infection and inflammation (otitis media), which often causes earache, may also be a complication of measles.

Fits that are caused by a fever (febrile seizures) are also possible complications of measles. However, the fits, although alarming, are not usually dangerous.

Less common complications

Less common complications of measles are:

  • meningitis 
  • pneumonia (lung infection), signs of which are fast, difficult breathing, chest pain and deteriorating condition
  • hepatitis (liver infection)
  • encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), which can be fatal, so watch for drowsiness, headache and vomiting
  • low platelet count, known medically as thrombocytopenia, which affects the blood's ability to clot
  • bronchitis and croup (infection of the airways), characterised by a hacking or barking cough
  • squint, if the virus affects the nerves and muscles of the eye

Rare complications

In rare cases, measles can lead to the following conditions:

  • serious eye disorders, such as an infection of the optic nerve (the nerve that transmits information from the eye to the brain), known as optic neuritis, which can lead to blindness
  • heart and nervous system problems
  • a serious brain complication known as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), which can sometimes occur several years after measles - however, although the condition is fatal, it is very rare, occurring in only 1 in every 100,000 cases of measles 
Medical Review: February 15, 2012
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