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Meningitis Diagnosis

It's important to diagnose meningitis quickly, because symptoms can quickly escalate to brain damage, hearing loss, and even death. In order to make a diagnosis, the doctor will ask a number of questions (especially about recent travel and contact with ill people), perform a physical exam, and possibly order various tests. Two painless, noninvasive imaging procedures are routinely used to reach a meningitis diagnosis.

An Introduction to Diagnosing Meningitis

An early meningitis diagnosis is vital; symptoms can appear suddenly and quickly escalate to brain damage, hearing and/or speech loss, blindness, or even death.


In order to make a meningitis diagnosis, the doctor will ask a number of questions about:


  • Current symptoms
  • Medications
  • Medical conditions
  • Family history of medical conditions
  • Activities of the past several days (such as any contact with ill people or recent travel).


The doctor will also perform a physical exam to look for signs or symptoms of meningitis. This exam will include a detailed exam of the brain and nervous system (known as a neurological exam). Finally, specific tests may be ordered to help diagnose meningitis, including:

  • Lab tests
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Imaging tests
  • Electroencephalography, or EEG.

Neurological Examination

A neurological examination involves a series of tests designed to assess:
  • Motor and sensory function
  • Nerve function
  • Hearing and speech
  • Vision
  • Coordination and balance
  • Mental status
  • Changes in mood or behavior.


Doctors may test the function of the nervous system through tests of strength and sensation, with the aid of items such as a tuning fork, small light, reflex hammer, and pins.

Know the Signs - Concussion Safety

What Is Meningitis?

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