Meningitis vs. Encephalitis

Key difference

The difference between meningitis and encephalitis is that in meningitis the meninges( protective layers surrounding the brain) are inflamed while in encephalitis, the parenchyma of the brain is inflamed itself.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Meningitis vs. Encephalitis

There are many differences between meningitis and encephalitis. Both are neurological disorders related to brain and spinal cord. The underlying cause may be a bacterial or viral infection while the bacterial infection is more dangerous. Meningitis refers to the inflammation (swelling) of the meninges which are the protective layers surrounding the brain. While encephalitis is the more dangerous condition and refers to the inflammation of brain parenchyma itself.

Signs and symptoms of both meningitis and encephalitis overlap a bit like headache, neck stiffness, irritability, nausea, vomiting, skin rash, and skin discoloration. But in encephalitis, seizures, and fits also occur which do not take place in meningitis. Lethargy, behavioral changes, double vision, and photophobia may also occur in both.

The underlying infectious cause in meningitis may be bacterial, viral or fungal while encephalitis may be due to bacterial or viral infection. Meningitis may also occur due to TB infection.

Meningitis occurs only in primary form while encephalitis may occur in a primary or secondary form.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Skin rash or discoloration is common in meningitis while rashes are not present in case of encephalitis.

Both meningitis and encephalitis can be diagnosed clinically, but certain tests are also required like blood culture. For encephalitis, imaging can also be performed like a CT scan or MRI to visualize brain substance.

Treatment of meningitis and encephalitis depends upon the underlying infection. Ampicillin, aminoglycosides, and cephalosporin in case of bacterial infection, acyclovir in case of viral infection, antifungal medicines in case of fungal infection and antituberculous therapy in case of TB meningitis.

Meningitis is a mild to moderate disease. The chances of development of complications are less in it, but encephalitis is a severe disease and may prove fatal if not treated.

Complications of meningitis are less and rare while those of encephalitis are urinary or bowel incontinence, paralysis, dementia, inability to speak and personality disorders.

Comparison Chart

Basis Meningitis Encephalitis
DefinitionIt is a condition in which outer coverings of the brain (meninges) are inflamed.It is a condition in which the brain parenchyma itself is inflamed. It is a serious condition.
Underlying cause The underlying cause may be a bacterial, viral or fungal infection. TB may also be a cause.The underlying cause may be a bacterial or viral infection. Fungal or TB encephalitis is not reported .
Severity of condition It is a less severe condition. In most of the cases, it is limiting.It is a very severe condition, and if left untreated, it may be fatal.
Signs and symptoms Neck stiffness, lethargy, fever, photophobia, neck stiffness, skin rashes, skin changes. Fits are not present. The triad of three symptoms, i.e., fever, neck stiffness, and nausea is classical for meningitis diagnosis.All symptoms are same as meningitis, but fits are also present. Behavioral changes, photophobia, double vision, nausea, vomiting, fever, neck stiffness, and nuchal rigidity present.
Skin changes and rashes Skin changes and rashes present.Skin changes and rashes absent.
Form Occurs only in primary form.May occur in a primary or secondary form.
Diagnosed by Diagnosed with clinical history and blood culture.Diagnosed clinically and blood culture. CT scan or MRI of the brain may also be performed if needed.
Treated by Ampicillin, aminoglycosides, and cephalosporin in case of bacterial, acyclovir in case of viral, antifungal drugs in case of fungal and anti TB drugs in case of TB meningitis.Ampicillin, aminoglycosides, and cephalosporin in case of bacterial and acyclovir in case of viral encephalitis.
Complications Less common.Complications are common like paralysis, neurological disorders, behavioral disorders, urinary and fecal incontinence.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a condition in which the protective coverings of the brain which are known as meninges are inflamed. The classical triad of signs and symptoms of meningitis is fever, neck stiffness and vomiting. Other signs and symptoms include photophobia, headache, rashes, skin changes, double vision, confusion, and behavioral changes. Fits do not occur in meningitis. The underlying cause of meningitis is infection either bacterial, viral or fungal. One other form of meningitis is TB meningitis. Meningitis is mild to moderate in severity. If the underlying cause is viral, it is self-limiting even without treatment. But if the underlying cause is bacterial, it may result in complications if left untreated. Meningitis is diagnosed by clinical history and examination, but blood culture is also mandatory to know the nature of infection. The treatment is started with antibiotics, i.e., aminoglycosides, cephalosporin, and ampicillin, but if the infection is proven viral in blood culture, antibacterial drugs are stopped and antiviral drugs, mainly acyclovir is started. If the infection is fungal, antifungal drugs are given, and if TB is proven, anti TB therapy is given for one year. Complications of meningitis are less if it is properly treated and timely diagnosed.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

What is encephalitis?

Encephalitis is a condition in which brain parenchyma is itself inflamed. The classical signs and symptoms of encephalitis are similar to meningitis, but it is characterized by the presence of fits which are essential for its diagnosis. Also, skin rashes may be present in meningitis but not present in case of encephalitis. Encephalitis may be viral or bacterial in origin. Encephalitis is a severe disease and may prove fatal if not treated timely. So it is mandatory to diagnose it early. It is diagnosed by clinical history and examination and specifically the presence of fits. Blood culture is also required to know the nature of infection. Antibacterial or antiviral drugs are given accordingly.  Sometimes CT scan of the brain is needed to visualize the brain substance and its damage. Complications of encephalitis are common, and that include neurological deficit, behavioral and personality changes, urinary and fecal incontinence and paralysis.

Key differences

  1. Meningitis is a condition in which protective coverings of the brain are inflamed while in encephalitis brain parenchyma is inflamed.
  2. Meningitis may be bacterial, viral or fungal origin but encephalitis is bacterial or viral. Not fungal encephalitis is reported yet.
  3. In meningitis, fits do not occur, but in encephalitis, fits do occur.
  4. Complications of meningitis are less common as compared to encephalitis.
  5. Meningitis may be primary or secondary in nature, but encephalitis is always primary.

Conclusion

Meningitis and encephalitis both are neurological conditions. They are a bit common worldwide. Although they may overlap in a patient, it is mandatory to know the differences between their origin, signs and symptoms, treatment, diagnosis, and complications. In the above article, we learned the clear differences between meningitis and encephalitis.

Leave a Comment