Most people who get meningitis and septicaemia survive, often without any after effects, but sometimes these diseases cause a range of disabilities and problems that can alter people's lives.
After effects may be temporary or permanent, physical or emotional.
People respond to their own situations differently, but frequently are unsure of what to expect after meningitis or septicaemia.
Relatives and friends may also feel the need for information, because the person who is recovering often needs a great deal of support.
Getting over meningitis or septicaemia can make major demands on people. Fortunately, many problems improve and disappear over time.
After effects of meningitis
- Memory loss / difficulty retaining information / lack of concentration
- Clumsiness / co-ordination problems
- Residual headaches
- Deafness / hearing problems / tinnitus / dizziness, loss of balance
- Learning difficulties (ranging from temporary learning deficiencies to long term mental impairment)
- Epilepsy / seizures (fits)
- Weakness, paralysis or spasms of part of body (if permanent, sometimes called cerebral palsy)
- Speech problems
- Loss of sight/changes in sight
After effects of septicaemia
- Memory loss / difficulty retaining information/lack of concentration
- Clumsiness / co-ordination problems
- Arthritis / stiffness in joints
- Scarring / skin damage
- Amputations - for example, fingers, toes, arms or legs
- Kidney damage
- Lung damage
Who has after effects?
Most people recover with no after effects and not all after effects are permanent.
The likelihood of getting after effects from meningitis or septicaemia depends on several factors including the type and severity of the illness. People who have been desperately ill may have spent a long time in intensive care. Research has shown that intensive care can be a distressing experience both for the person who has the illness and for their family.
Currently the majority of cases of bacterial meningitis and septicaemia are caused by meningococcal infection. This produces severely disabling after effects in about one in twelve survivors, although patients who have severe meningococcal septicaemia tend to have a worse outcome.
After meningococcal disease, pneumococcal meningitis is the main type and it is more likely to produce serious damage.
Neonatal meningitis (occurring in the first month of life) also carries a higher risk of after effects than most other forms.
A person recovering from viral meningitis may experience similar problems to someone who has had bacterial meningitis, but will rarely have severe after effects.
Careful and early follow up of patients discharged after meningitis and septicaemia is important. An estimated 25% of people who survive meningitis or septicaemia will have less obvious after effects, such as difficulties with co-ordination, concentration and memory. These are usually temporary.
Good and bad days
Although some people are completely back to normal within a matter of weeks, it can take many months to recover from meningitis and septicaemia. People often find that they have days when they feel very good, and others when they feel so bad that they worry they are becoming ill again.
It is important to 'listen' to the needs of your body. There is no magic formula to feeling better, because the body needs time to recover fully. It is important to mention to employers and teachers that you may need time off. Help and support from your family doctor can be invaluable, and a doctor's note will be necessary if you need a longer period of rest.
Emotional after effects that may occur after meningitis and septicaemia:
- Temper tantrums
- Moodiness or aggression
- Disturbed sleep / nightmares
- Changes in character
- Learning difficulties
- Fear of doctors and hospitals
- Other behavioural and emotional problems
Help and support
We have over twenty years experience of working with and supporting individuals and families who have survived meningitis and septicaemia.
If you would like to talk through anything you read here, or about the difficulties you or a loved one are experiencing in the aftermath of meningitis or septicaemia, please ring the Foundation's helpline or email us.
Many people find that it helps to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience and our helpline team may be able to put you in touch with someone to talk things over or provide a listening ear through our Telephone Befriending programme.
Other organisations who can provide information and support regarding after effects
See our blog discussions:Memory loss after meningitisLong term after effectsHair loss after meningitis