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.
In order to make a meningitis diagnosis, the doctor will ask a number of questions about:
- Current symptoms
- 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.
- Motor and sensory function
- Nerve function
- Hearing and speech
- 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.