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

Medically reviewed by Ika Villanueva Caperonce, MD · Infectious Disease · Makati Medical Center

Written by Shienna Santelices · Updated Sep 02, 2022

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 protect the brain and spinal cord, becomes inflamed. 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 causes tuberculosis (TB), a disease that generally affects the lungs, but may also spread to other sites such as the lymph nodes, gastrointestinal tract, joints, bones and others.

TB Meningitis is a rare complication that occurs in some people who are or have been infected with TB. Tuberculosis 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 its nonspecific symptoms that often leads to late diagnosis. 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 close contact and inhalation of droplets from a cough or sneeze of someone with TB.
  2. After entering the lungs, the bacteria multiplies and if the individual’s immune system is not strong enough to contain the infection, it may spread. They pass into the bloodstream or lymphatic system, and to other organs.
In the susceptible host, the bacteria may reach the central nervous system where they form small collections of infectious “tubercles” or abscesses on the meninges and brain tissue. This leads to TB meningitis.
  • The response to infection causes increased pressure within the skull, which can damage the nerves and brain tissues.
  • Symptoms of TB meningitis

    TB meningitis symptoms can come in different sets depending on the person’s immunity and severity of disease.

    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.

    • Low-grade fever
    • Not feeling well or malaise
    • Tiredness
    • Aches and pains
    • Poor appetite
    • Headache
    • Irritability

    Specific symptoms

    Symptoms that are specific and more associated with meningitis will manifest in patients if TB meningitis is not detected and possible raised intracranial pressure is already happening. These include:

    • Profound mental status changes such as drowsiness, lethargy
    • Severe headache
    • Neck stiffness
    • Stroke-like signs (focal neurological deficits)
    • Abnormal involuntary movements

    Late-stage symptoms

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

    • Stupor
    • Coma
    • Seizures

    Treatment of early and late-stage TB meningitis

    Treating early signs of the condition can ensure good recovery among most people. However, some treated in the later stages with more neurological complications already present may experience long-term after-effects.

    The possible long term complications include:
    • Hydrocephalus
    • Cranial nerve palsies
    • Hemiplegia
    • Cognitive changes

    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 Calmette-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 pulmonary 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.

    Medically reviewed by

    Ika Villanueva Caperonce, MD

    Infectious Disease · Makati Medical Center

    Written by Shienna Santelices · Updated Sep 02, 2022

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