By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. & Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.
Fever, vomiting, stiff neck, skin rash, aversion to light, bad headache? These are possible early signs of meningitis. Bacterial meningitis can become very serious very quickly—and even be deadly—,so it is important to be aware of meningitis symptoms. Acupuncture and TCM can provide adjunct treatment for meningitis in addition to conventional medicine.
Meningitis is a general term for any kind of swelling or inflammation in the tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. These membranes are called the meninges. Sometimes called “spinal meningitis,” this type of inflammation is most often caused by either a bacterial infection or viral infection, but other things can cause meningitis, too.
The bacteria and viruses that can cause meningitis can be spread from person to person in the same ways as most colds, flus, and other infections. If you suspect you may have bacterial meningitis, it is important to seek treatment right away. Similar to encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), this illness can progress quickly, sometimes causing seizures and even death.
Even after meningitis moves past an acute phase, many people will suffer from after effects and complications of meningitis, like headaches, vision or hearing problems, or cognitive issues. TCM and acupuncture can help people recover more fully from the effects of brain swelling due to meningitis.
Top 5 Types of Meningitis:
Swelling in brain can be caused by meningitis bacteria, or can manifest due to a virus or some other condition. Causes of meningitis can include:
- Bacterial meningitis – meningitis can be triggered by various bacteria, such as the kinds that cause strep throat, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and colds and flu. This type of meningitis can become serious, even causing death if left untreated. Symptoms usually appear quite suddenly, and can worsen in a matter of hours.
- Viral meningitis – Viruses that can cause meningitis include non-polio enteroviruses, herpes virus, West Nile, Epstein-Barr, measles, mumps, and chickenpox/shingles viruses. Typically meningitis caused by these types of viral infection is milder than bacterial meningitis. Certain types of meningitis are also associated with HIV/AIDS.
- Certain types of cancer – if a cancer tumor, such as a brain tumor, or a breast cancer tumor, begin to break apart and move through the body, they can get into the meninges and cause carcinomatous meningitis.
- Lupus – sometimes meningitis can be part of an autoimmune response that affects the central nervous system, such as occurs with Lupus.
- Injury to the head or spine, brain surgery – swelling around the brain can be caused by some kind of external physical trauma
Meningitis can also be caused by a fungus or parasite that gets into the body.
The effects of meningitis, especially bacterial meningitis, can be very serious, so if you see a combination of symptoms from those listed below, you should seek urgent medical attention.
Top 10 Meningitis Symptoms:
Brain swelling symptoms or symptoms for meningitis can include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Stiff neck, neck stiffness
- Severe headache
- Meningitis rash on any part of the body: small red spots, red blotches, blood blisters
- Aversion to bright light
- Fatigue, sleepy, hard to stay awake
- Confusion, delirious, foggy head, difficulty concentrating
- No appetite or thirst
In infants and young children, signs of meningitis might include: crying, not wanting to eat, hard to wake up, high fever, stiffness in the body, swelling or bulging on the top of the head (fontanel).
There are a few types of meningitis vaccine, or meningococcal vaccine, which can help to prevent bacterial meningitis.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Meningitis
When a patient presents with these types of symptoms, a doctor will probably want to err on the side of caution and test for bacterial meningitis, since time is of the essence when treating what could be a very serious condition.
Blood tests, CT scan, or MRI may all be used to check for signs, but a spinal tap to collect cerebrospinal fluid is considered the definitive way to confirm a diagnosis of bacterial meningitis.
Bacterial meningitis is treated with antibiotics and corticosteroid medications to get rid of the bacterial infection and reduce swelling.
Viral meningitis will not respond to antibiotics. Some doctors may prescribe steroid medications to reduce swelling.
It can take longer to figure out what is causing swelling in the brain if it is caused by some other factor, such as a fungal infection, or in relation to an autoimmune disorder. In some cases, a doctor may choose to start treating with antibiotics and/or antivirals until the root cause is determined.
Even after meningitis treatment, some people will continue to have after effects, some of which can even lead to disability. Cognitive problems with memory and concentration, vision problems, headaches, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dizziness, problems with balance and coordination, and even seizures, can be some of the long-term effects of meningitis. Acupuncture and TCM can be very helpful for treating these lingering symptoms of meningitis.
Can Acupuncture Help Meningitis?
In Traditional Chinese medicine, we classify many infectious diseases—including cold and flu, strep throat, chicken pox, SARS, tuberculosis, and meningitis—as “warm” diseases. When these types of external pathogens get into the body, they cause fever, which depletes the Yin (cool, liquid) energy of the body. The TCM approach, then, is primarily to clear the heat.
TCM has its own way of looking at symptoms occurring in a pattern, from which we deduce what kind of pathogenic forces are creating disharmony. The TCM view of meningitis is that it relates to an invasion of Heat that leads to a deficiency of Yin energy. A pattern of symptoms that includes: fever, red skin rash, irritability, confusion, and trouble sleeping would indicate that pathogenic heat is depleting the body of fluids and affecting the pericardium, which in TCM means “protector of the heart.”
When these symptoms are present, we know that there is inflammation causing swelling of tissues and preventing the smooth flow of nutrition and Qi to the vital organs. Chinese herbs and acupuncture can help reduce inflammation that causes symptoms of meningitis.
Chinese herbal formulations that go back centuries can also have antibacterial and antiviral effects.
Acupuncture treatment can not only help, then, the root cause of meningitis, but can also deal with the symptoms many people experience as a result of swelling in the brain, such as headaches, dizziness, and spasms.
Acupuncture Near Me for Meningitis – Los Angeles Area
Meningitis is a condition that needs urgent care because it can be a very serious illness in the short-term. Meningitis can also lead to long-term effects that are debilitating. Acupuncture and TCM can provide relief and recovery from meningitis symptoms.
*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.