How Effective Is Dexamethasone for Meningitis?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 22 February 2020
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Dexamethasone for meningitis might prevent complications with certain strains of bacteria causing the disease by easing inflammation and swelling in the brain. Some studies show the timing of using dexamethasone for meningitis is important for its effectiveness. The anti-inflammatory medication should be given before or with antibacterial drugs used to treat the disorder. Results of research on dexamethasone for meningitis is mixed; much depends on the stage of the disease, the type of bacterium involved, and age of the patient.

Little evidence exists regarding benefits of dexamethasone for meningitis caused by viruses, fungi, or parasites. Although use of the drug remains controversial, it might reduce the risk of hearing loss linked to some infections, such as germs that cause influenza and strep throat. Doctors treating meningitis typically consider the root cause of the disorder, along with other health factors, before prescribing dexamethasone for meningitis.

Meningitis targets the central nervous system when membranes surrounding the brain or spinal cord become infected. These membranes guard the brain from attack by the body’s immune system. When infection permeates these protective layers, it might spread into the brain, causing swelling and inflammation.


The swelling could put pressure on cranial nerves and restrict the flow of cerebral fluid in the spine, causing permanent damage, such as hearing loss, blindness, mental retardation, or paralysis. Dexamethasone for meningitis might relieve some of the pressure by reducing inflammation. As a corticosteroid medication, it mimics hormones produced naturally in the body by the adrenal glands. Dexamethasone is commonly prescribed to reduce pain and swelling caused by arthritis, thyroid problems, some cancers, and other disorders.

Side effects of dexamethasone include nausea, which might be eased if the drug is taken with meals. Some patients report depression, restlessness, or insomnia while taking this medication. As a synthetic hormone drug, it might cause excessive hair growth or affect women’s menstrual cycles.

Children under the age of five and adults over the age of 60 face higher risks of infection that cause meningitis. Symptoms of the disease include confusion, delirium, and sleepiness. Some patients might find bright lights irritating. Acute meningitis can be life threatening and require emergency medical treatment, but most cases of bacterial meningitis develop over several days. The severity of the disease depends upon the degree of penetration into the brain by invading germs.


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