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For further information, see CMDT Part 33-37: Tuberculous Meningitis

Key Features

Essentials of Diagnosis

  • Gradual onset of listlessness and anorexia

  • Fever, headache, vomiting, and seizures common

  • Cranial nerve abnormalities are often present

  • Tuberculous focus may be evident elsewhere

  • Cerebrospinal fluid shows several hundred lymphocytes per microliter, low glucose, and high protein

General Considerations

  • Caused by rupture of a meningeal tuberculoma resulting from earlier hematogenous seeding of tubercle bacillus from a pulmonary focus, or may be a consequence of miliary spread

Clinical Findings

Symptoms and Signs

  • Usually a subacute or chronic meningitis

    • With listlessness, irritability, anorexia, and fever

    • Followed by headache, vomiting, convulsions, and coma

  • In older patients

    • Headache and behavioral changes are prominent early symptoms

    • Nuchal rigidity and cranial nerve palsies occur as the meningitis progresses

  • Evidence of active tuberculosis elsewhere or a history of prior tuberculosis is present in up to 75% of patients

  • The tuberculin skin test is usually (not always) positive

Differential Diagnosis

  • May be confused with any other type of meningitis, but the gradual onset, the predominantly lymphocytic pleocytosis of the spinal fluid, and evidence of tuberculosis elsewhere often point to the diagnosis

  • Chronic lymphocytic meningitis due to

    • Fungi (Cryptococcus, Coccidioides, Histoplasma)

    • Brucellosis

    • Leptospirosis

    • Syphilis

    • Lyme disease

    • HIV infection

    • Neurocysticercosis

  • Carcinomatous meningitis

  • Sarcoidosis

  • Subdural hematoma

Diagnosis

Laboratory Tests

  • The spinal fluid is frequently yellowish, with increased pressure, 100–500 cells/mcL (predominantly lymphocytes, though neutrophils may be present early during infection), high protein, and low glucose (Table 30–1)

  • Acid-fast stains of cerebrospinal fluid usually are negative, and cultures also may be negative in 15–25% of cases

Table 30–1.Typical cerebrospinal fluid findings in various central nervous system diseases.

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