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Meningitis is a condition that can occur when the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord becomes inflammed. The swelling from this inflammation can harm or destroy nerve cells and cause bleeding in the brain. A number of things can cause this condition, from an infection to a traumatic injury to the head or spine. The bacterial form of this condition has a high death rate if left untreated, so it requires immediate medical attention.

What Is Meningitis?

Meningitis is a condition that causes inflammation and swelling in the lining of the brain and spinal cord. This swelling from meningitis can harm or destroy nerve cells and cause bleeding in the brain.

What Causes It?

The causes of spinal meningitis are most often a bacterial or viral infection. Most often, the body's immune system is able to contain and defeat an infection. But if the infection passes into the bloodstream and then into the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, it can affect the nerves and travel to the brain and/or surrounding membranes, causing inflammation. These infections are known as bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis, respectively.
Meningitis also may be caused by:
  • A fungal infection
  • A reaction to certain medications or medical treatments
  • An inflammatory disease such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus)
  • Some types of cancer
  • A traumatic injury to the head or spine.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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