Meningitis - Complications 

Complications of meningitis 

Bacterial meningitis can place tremendous strain on the body and the brain.

It's estimated that a quarter of people with meningococcal disease (meningitis or blood poisoning caused by Neisseria meningitidis) will have complications.

Complications can vary in severity from person to person, and can be temporary or permanent.

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
  • co-ordination and balance problems
  • learning difficulties and behavioural problems  which may be temporary or permanent
  • epilepsy  a condition that causes repeated seizures (fits)
  • cerebral palsy  a general term for a number of neurological conditions that affect movement and co-ordination
  • speech problems
  • vision loss  which may be partial or total

Hearing loss

As hearing loss is the most common complication of meningitis, people recovering from the condition will usually have a hearing test. The test should be carried out before you're 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 between four and six weeks after being discharged from hospital. In cases where hearing is severely affected, cochlear implants (small devices inserted into the ears to improve hearing) may be needed.

Gangrene

If bacteria have entered the blood, they can produce toxins 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 finger, toe or a limb (arm or leg).

Read more about gangrene and amputation.

Intensive care

Being treated in intensive care for several weeks can sometimes cause complications. Some 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's available.

Psychological effects

Having meningitis can be a traumatic experience, particularly for young children. People often experience psychological effects and behavioural changes.

Possible psychological effects include:

  • becoming "clingy" and needing to be near a loved one  for example, a child may feel anxious when they're not with a parent
  • bedwetting 
  • disturbed sleep
  • nightmares 
  • moodiness
  • 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're anxious about your child's behaviour, or if you're having psychological problems.

They may be able to refer you to mental health services for treatment, such as counselling, or they may refer your child to a child psychologist (a specialist in assessing and treating mental health conditions in children).

Page last reviewed: 10/06/2014

Next review due: 10/06/2016

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Getting support

If you or your family has been affected by meningitis, further information and support is available from charities such as the Meningitis Research Foundation  080 8800 3344  and Meningitis Now  0808 80 10 388. Both charities run a 24-hour freephone helpline.

Hearing tests

A number of different hearing tests can be used to check how well the ears are functioning

Night terrors and nightmares

The difference between the two and advice on what to do

Counselling

Find out how counselling, a type of talking therapy, can help you, plus how to find a counsellor.