What is aseptic meningitis?

Updated: Jul 17, 2018
  • Author: Tarakad S Ramachandran, MBBS, MBA, MPH, FAAN, FACP, FAHA, FRCP, FRCPC, FRS, LRCP, MRCP, MRCS; Chief Editor: Niranjan N Singh, MBBS, MD, DM, FAHS, FAANEM  more...
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Aseptic meningitis is an illness characterized by serous inflammation of the linings of the brain (i.e., meninges), usually with an accompanying mononuclear pleocytosis. Clinical manifestations vary, with headache and fever predominating. The illness is usually mild and runs its course without treatment; however, some cases can be severe and life threatening.

Aseptic meningitis syndrome is not caused by pyogenic bacteria. Although it is usually caused by certain viruses, it has a number of other etiologies as well, both infectious and noninfectious. Hence, the term aseptic meningitis is no longer synonymous with viral meningitis, although the two are still often used interchangeably.

The epidemiologic setting (e.g., time of year, geographic locale, exposure to insects, diseases prevalent in the local community) and accompanying systemic manifestations may be helpful in making a presumptive diagnosis. However, with a few exceptions, the clinical and laboratory findings accompanying acute viral meningitis are insufficiently distinct to allow an etiologic diagnosis, and distinguishing these disorders from a number of nonviral diseases may be difficult.

Treatment varies with the cause. No specific pharmacologic treatment is available for most cases of viral meningitis; these patients are managed with supportive therapy, which includes analgesics, antinausea medications, intravenous fluids, and prevention and treatment of complications.

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