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Is It Just a Headache? TB Meningitis Symptoms To Watch Out For

Is It Just a Headache? TB Meningitis Symptoms To Watch Out For

What is Tuberculosis Meningitis?

Tuberculosis meningitis or TB meningitis is a potentially life-threatening medical condition. Following this it is important to watch out for TB meningitis symptoms.


Meningitis is a medical condition when the meninges, or the membranes that surround and protects the brain and spinal cord, experiences inflammation. There are various causes for this inflammation. Among the different forms of this condition are bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic, amebic, and non-infectious meningitis. However, all of these can lead to more serious neurological complications if not treated early on.

TB meningitis

One type of bacterial meningitis is TB meningitis. The bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis causes this condition. It is the same bacteria that cause tuberculosis (TB), a bacterial disease that generally affects the lungs, as well as other body parts including the joints, kidneys, lymph nodes, bones, and others.

TB Meningitis is a “rare complication” that occurs in some people who are or have been infected with TB. The condition is more likely to affect those who live in poverty-stricken areas or countries with a high incidence of TB. The condition is life-threatening due to the slow progression of the disease. It starts with symptoms that are hard to pinpoint to TB meningitis. If left untreated, this condition can result in more severe long-term conditions.

How does TB meningitis progress in the body?

Here is how TB Meningitis progresses in the body:

  1. The bacteria enters the body through the inhalation of a droplet from a cough or sneeze of someone infected with TB.
  2. After entering the lungs, the bacteria multiplies and spreads. They pass into the bloodstream or lymphatic system, and to other organs.
  3. The bacteria reach some parts of the Central Nervous System. They form small abscesses called “tubercles” or “microtubules” on the meninges and brain tissue. These abscesses may burst immediately or may take some months or years after the infection to burst. This leads to TB meningitis.
  4. The infection causes increased pressure within the skull, which can damage the nerves and brain tissues.

What is TB Meningitis? Everything You Need to Know

Symptoms of TB meningitis

TB meningitis symptoms come in different sets according to the progression and severity of the disease in the body.

Vague, non-specific symptoms

The early symptoms of TB meningitis are described as “vague” and “non-specific.” These symptoms are also associated with other more common infections and conditions. People with TB meningitis can experience these symptoms from 2-8 weeks:

  • Aches and pains
  • Drowsiness (particularly in the elderly)
  • Difficulty in sleeping and eating
  • Irritability
  • Low-grade fever
  • Not feeling well
  • Tiredness
  • Worsening headache

Specific symptoms

Symptoms that are specific and more associated with meningitis will manifest in patients if TB meningitis is not detected early. These include:

  • Nausea
  • Severe headache
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Neck stiffness
  • Seizures

Late-stage symptoms

If TB meningitis is left untreated, the person with the said condition may experience the following:

  • Confusion
  • Nerve Damage
  • Comatose

Treatment of early and late-stage TB meningitis

Treating early signs of the condition can ensure good recovery among most people. However, some will experience long-term after-effects.

Otherwise, when diagnosed at a point when more severe late-stage symptoms have manifested, about 25-50% of patients will experience severe long-term complications such as:

  • Acquired brain injury
  • Epilepsy
  • Paralysis
  • Hearing loss or deafness
  • Loss of sight or blindness

While treatment may vary depending on the patient’s response to the medication, prevention is always better than needing a cure. As TB meningitis is closely related to tuberculosis, vaccination using the Bacillus Calmetter-Guerin (BCG) vaccine is recommended, especially when you’re living in a country where there is a high prevalence of TB.

Key takeaway

TB meningitis is a form of bacterial meningitis caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is the same bacteria that causes tuberculosis. TB meningitis symptoms often begin as vague and non-specific, which may cause difficulty in diagnosing this condition at an early stage. Treating this condition at a later stage can lead to long-term after-effects. Early detection and treatment are important in curbing the progress of this condition. Prevention can also be done by taking the BCG vaccine, especially if you’re in a country with high TB rates.

Learn more about Infectious Diseases here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Meningitis, https://www.cdc.gov/meningitis/index.html

Accessed February 9, 2021

Tuberculosis (TB), https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/tuberculosis/docs/fact_sheet.pdf

Accessed February 9, 2021

TB Meningitis, https://www.meningitisnow.org/meningitis-explained/what-is-meningitis/types-and-causes/tb-meningitis/

Accessed February 9, 2021

Rare Disease Database: Meningitis, Tuberculosis, https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/meningitis-tuberculous/

Accessed February 9, 2021

Fact Sheets: BCG Vaccine, https://www.cdc.gov/tb/publications/factsheets/prevention/bcg.htm

Accessed February 9, 2021

Tuberculosis (TB) meningitis, https://www.meningitis.org/meningitis/causes/tb-(tuberculosis)-meningitis

Accessed February 9, 2021

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Written by Shienna Santelices Updated Apr 16, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel