Although the skull provides the brain with an excellent defense, it can also become problematic during infections. Any swelling of the brain or meninges that results from inflammation can cause intracranial pressure, leading to severe damage of the brain tissues, which have limited space to expand within the inflexible bones of the skull. The term meningitis is used to describe an inflammation of the meninges. Typical symptoms can include severe headache, fever, photophobia (increased sensitivity to light), stiff neck, convulsions, and confusion. An inflammation of brain tissue is called encephalitis, and patients exhibit signs and symptoms similar to those of meningitis in addition to lethargy, seizures, and personality changes. When inflammation affects both the meninges and the brain tissue, the condition is called meningoencephalitis. All three forms of inflammation are serious and can lead to blindness, deafness, coma, and death.
Meningitis and encephalitis can be caused by many different types of microbial pathogens. However, these conditions can also arise from noninfectious causes such as head trauma, some cancers, and certain drugs that trigger inflammation. To determine whether the inflammation is caused by a pathogen, a lumbar puncture is performed to obtain a sample of CSF. If the CSF contains increased levels of white blood cells and abnormal glucose and protein levels, this indicates that the inflammation is a response to an infectioninflinin.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology