Objective: To determine systematically central nervous system and systemic complications during the acute phase of adult bacterial meningitis.
Design: Prospective clinical study.
Setting: University referral center, Department of Neurology.
Patients: A total of 86 consecutive patients between the ages of 15 and 87 years who had bacterial meningitis.
Measurements: Central nervous system complications, including brain swelling, hydrocephalus, brain abscess, subdural empyema, or subdural effusion (using computed tomography) and cerebrovascular involvement (using cerebral angiography), systemic complications, including septic shock, disseminated intravascular coagulation, adult respiratory distress syndrome, or septic or reactive arthritis, and typical complications arising during intensive care therapy.
Results: Of the 86 adult patients with bacterial meningitis, complications developed in 43 patients. The major central nervous system complications included angiographically documented cerebrovascular involvement (15.1% of the patients [13/86 patients]), brain swelling (14.0% [12/86]), hydrocephalus (11.6% [10/86]), and intracerebral hemorrhage (2.3% [2/86]), while septic shock (11.6% [10/86]), adult respiratory distress syndrome (3.5% [3/86]), and disseminated intravascular coagulation (8.1% [7/86]) dominated among the patients with systemic complications. Seven patients had cerebral herniation, three with a lethal course. The overall mortality was 18.6% [16/86] and was 10 of 30 (3.33%) in pneumococcal meningitis.
Conclusions: Clinical and autopsy studies showed that the major determinants for the lethal outcome were primarily central nervous system complications in six patients, systemic complications in five, and a combination of both in another five. The identification of the various complications and their time of expected occurrence may help to develop additional treatment regimens in bacterial meningitis in adults.