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What is TB Meningitis? Everything You Need to Know

What is TB Meningitis? Everything You Need to Know

Tubercular meningitis or TB meningitis is a type of meningitis that causes the membranes around the brain or spinal cord, also known as the meninges, to become inflamed. The swelling of the membrane usually causes headache, high fever, and a sudden stiff neck.

The inflammation of the meninges is caused by a type of bacteria called Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which infects the membranes and develops the infection over time. It may take days or even years for the first signs of TB meningitis to be noticed, making it difficult to be diagnosed.

It is possible for anyone to develop TB meningitis but it is more likely to occur in developing countries with poor living conditions. Those at risk are people with weak immunity and young children.

TB meningitis causes

TB meningitis may result from a person inhaling the bacteria from a person infected with tuberculosis. It may also affect a person who is already infected with tuberculosis.

The bacteria travels into the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord, which will begin to develop small abscesses. These abscesses may burst, causing TB meningitis. These swollen bumps may pop right away or months after the infection. It may even take years for them to burst, causing buildup of pressure in the skull.

Symptoms of TB meningitis

The symptoms of TB meningitis usually develop slowly but become much more severe as time passes. TB meningitis causes the following:

  • Chronic or continuous headaches
  • Aches and pains
  • Appetite loss
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Stiff neck

Once the infection becomes more severe, the following symptoms may be noticed:

  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

Because of the slow, gradual nature of the disease, TB meningitis may become difficult to diagnose and requires treatment as soon as the possible symptoms are observed.

Tuberculosis Causes to Avoid and Who’s Most at Risk

Risk factors

Though TB meningitis is more common in children around 5 to 9 years old in the Philippines, people of all ages can develop it. Factors that can heighten the chance of developing TB meningitis are as follows:

  • Excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages
  • Weak immune system
  • Diabetes
  • Poor living conditions
  • TB of the lungs (Pulmonary Tuberculosis)

The following people have a higher chance of getting diagnosed with the disease:

  • Unvaccinated infants and children who have come in close contact with family who were born in a country with high TB incidence
  • People with jobs that involve having close contact with infected TB patients or animals


During the diagnosis, the doctor will ask about the patient’s symptoms and medical history, followed by a physical exam.

The doctor may perform further tests to confirm if a patient is positive for the disease.

Possible tests include a lumbar puncture, also known as spinal tap, which is when the doctor collects spinal fluid from the lower back. A brain biopsy might be necessary in order to diagnose the illness. You may also need a chest x-ray and a CT scan of the head.

How to prevent TB meningitis

Vaccination is an effective way of preventing this disease.

BCG, the vaccine for TB meningitis, was made for infants and children alike. It prevents the development and lowers the severity of the different forms of TB. Though the vaccine is distributed all throughout the Philippines, the rate of infection remains unchanged because of the increasing rate of TB.

Having your children and yourself vaccinated against TB infections will prevent any severe complications of TB in the body.

How treatment works

Early signs of TB meningitis are difficult to diagnose because of its slow progression and development. However, early treatment will aid in improving one’s recovery.

  • Hospital admission is a must. The doctor needs to closely observe and monitor the disease and its symptoms in order to give you proper treatment.
  • Patients will take antibiotics. Doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. The treatment period usually lasts around nine months to one year.
  • Treatment should be completed. The treatment should never be rushed so that there is no risk of the bacteria spreading again in the membranes.

Key takeaway

TB meningitis causes a bacterial infection in the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It is quite common in developing countries with high TB and HIV incidents. The disease causes headaches, stiff neck, as well as tiredness, and appetite loss. Symptoms like vomiting and seizures may also occur once the infection becomes severe.

It may take months, sometimes years, to diagnose the disease. Proper and consistent treatment in a hospital is required to combat the infection.

Learn more about Infectious Diseases here.

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

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Written by Angeli Del Rosario Updated Apr 16, 2021
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel