Diagnosing Meningitis

Meningitis causes an inflammation of the meninges (membranes) that surround the brain and spinal cord. While most cases of meningitis that are diagnosed in the United States were caused by a viral infection, this disease could be triggered by a bacterial and fungal infection as well. The risk to the patient is reliant on the source of the infection. Some cases get better on their own, while others can become deadly if not treated promptly.

Medical assistance is essential if you believe that you or a loved one has contracted meningitis. Early treatment can help prevent life-threatening complications, and there are vaccines available for meningitis. If you are interested in helping to develop better vaccinations, you may want to check out our meningitis vaccine clinical trial in DeLand, FL.

Tests Available for Meningitis

A doctor or pediatrician will be able to diagnose meningitis based on a physical exam, medical history, and a selection of diagnostic tests. During the exam, doctors will look for meningitis symptoms around the patient’s spine, throat, head, and ears. If necessary, doctors could order any of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap): This is the most definitive diagnostic test used for meningitis. It requires an analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is extracted during a procedure known as a spinal tap. If you have meningitis, then the glucose levels of this fluid will be low while the white blood cell count and protein will be higher than average.
  • Medical Imaging: Computerized tomography (CT) scans and X-rays taken of the head, chest, or sinuses can show inflammation or swelling. These tests can also help doctors find signs of infection in other parts of the body that could be linked to meningitis.
  • Blood Cultures: Blood can show signs of infection as well. Lab techs may test extracted blood to see if it can grow microorganisms, especially bacteria. They may also add stains (Gram’s stain) to a small samples and look for bacteria under the microscope.

Further analysis of the cerebrospinal fluid that is extracted during the spinal tap can be used to help identify the specific strain of bacteria that caused the patient’s illness. If the doctor thinks its viral meningitis, they may order a DNA-based test called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) amplification. They could also test for certain antibodies that would be produced in response to viral activity. Once a diagnosis has been made, then the appropriate treatment can be applied.

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