Kernig's Sign

Use our Kernig's Sign template to accurately diagnose meningitis in patients, ensuring prompt and effective treatment. Download now for a reliable clinical tool.

By Nate Lacson on Jun 03, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

Use Template

What is meningitis?

Meningitis is a serious medical condition characterized by the inflammation of the membranes (meninges) surrounding the brain and spinal cord. It can affect individuals of any age but is more common in infants, young children, and people with compromised immune systems. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are vital due to the condition's potential severity.

Meningitis manifests several symptoms:

  • Sudden high fever and severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light
  • Confusion or difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
  • Sleepiness or difficulty waking up
  • Lack of interest in drinking and eating
  • Skin rash in some cases

Meningitis can be caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. Bacterial meningitis is the most severe form and can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. Viral meningitis is more common and less severe, often resolving without specific treatment. Fungal meningitis, though rare, occurs mostly in individuals with weakened immune systems. Environmental and genetic factors can also influence susceptibility to meningitis, alongside direct exposure to microbes that cause it.

How to diagnose meningitis

Because it shares many different symptoms with other illnesses, diagnosing meningitis involves many steps. Here are the things that could be done for diagnostic accuracy:

  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap): To collect and analyze cerebrospinal fluid to confirm inflammation.
  • Blood tests: To check for bacteria or viruses and inflammatory markers.
  • CT scan or MRI: To rule out other conditions, such as brain swelling, abscess, or another infection.
  • Bacterial culture: If there is suspected bacterial meningitis, a culture is taken to determine the specific type of bacteria causing it.
  • Physical exam: Doctors look for signs like Kernig’s and Brudzinski's signs during the initial examination.

Printable Kernig's Sign

Donwload the Kernig's Sign to diagnose meningitis effectively.

What is the Kernig's Sign?

Kernig's Sign is a clinical examination used to diagnose meningitis, an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. This neurological sign is named after Vladimir Kernig, a Russian physician who first described it in the late 19th century.

The test for Kernig’s Sign is straightforward but crucial for assessing potential meningeal irritation. It involves flexing the patient's hip to 90 degrees while they are lying down and then attempting to extend the knee. A positive Kernig’s Sign is indicated by pain in the lower back and resistance to straightening the knee, which suggests irritation of the meninges.

What are the possible results and interpretations?

A positive Kernig's sign does not necessarily mean meningitis exclusively; it can indicate other conditions. If the patient has a positive Kernig's Sign, it can be one of these:

  • Meningeal irritation: Usually due to infections like meningitis, indicating inflammation of the protective membranes of the brain and spinal cord.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage: Blood leaks into the space between the brain and the tissue covering it, often causing significant and sudden symptoms.
  • Nerve root irritation: This may occur due to other reasons like a herniated disc, not necessarily infectious in nature.
  • Other nonspecific findings: While Kernig's Sign is indicative, it's not exclusive to meningitis and can sometimes result from other medical issues affecting the spinal cord or adjacent structures.

Understanding and recognizing Kernig's Sign is crucial for healthcare providers as it aids in the quick identification of serious conditions that require immediate attention.

How does our Kernig's Sign template work?

Our Kernig's Sign template is designed to streamline the process of assessing for signs of meningitis during a physical examination. It provides a structured procedure and space for recording findings. Here's how to use this template effectively:

Step 1: Access this template

You can easily access this editable template through the Carepatron app or download it from our website. You can customize and share it via the app, too. The template can also be printed for use in clinical settings where digital access may be limited.

Step 2: Explain the template

Before conducting the test, explain the structure and purpose of the template to the patient. This ensures everyone involved understands what information needs to be collected, which improves their confidence and trust.

Step 3: Perform the Kernig's Sign test

The healthcare provider performs the Kernig's Sign test as outlined in the template—by flexing the patient's hip to 90 degrees with the knee bent and then trying to extend the knee. This step is crucial for determining the presence of meningeal irritation or other related conditions.

Step 4: Record and analyze the findings

Immediately after performing the test, record whether the Kernig's Sign is positive or negative, noting any resistance, pain, or inability to extend the knee. Discuss these findings with the rest of the medical team or the patient to determine the next steps, whether it's further diagnostic testing like a lumbar puncture or immediate treatment. This consolidated step ensures efficient handling of the examination process and swift decision-making.

Kernig's Sign example (sample)

To demonstrate the practical application of our Kernig's Sign template, Carepatron has created a sample document filled with fictitious patient information. This example serves as a valuable reference for healthcare professionals, helping them understand how to guide their patients through the process of testing for signs of meningitis effectively.

Download this free Kernig's Scale example here:

Kernig's Sign example (sample)

What are the next steps?

After identifying a positive Kernig's Sign during a patient examination, it's crucial to promptly decide on the subsequent actions to ensure effective management of the potential underlying condition. Here are the essential next steps to consider:

  • Further diagnostic testing: If Kernig's Sign is positive, further confirmatory tests such as a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) should be performed to analyze cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). This test helps confirm the presence of meningitis by detecting inflammatory cells and possibly identifying the causative organism.
  • Immediate medical treatment: Depending on the severity of symptoms and the likelihood of meningitis, initiating empirical antibiotic or antiviral therapy may be necessary even before all diagnostic results are available. Early treatment significantly improves outcomes in cases of bacterial meningitis.
  • Patient monitoring: Close monitoring of the patient’s vital signs, neurological status, and response to treatment is essential. Changes in condition should prompt reassessment and possible adjustment of treatment strategies.

By following these steps, healthcare professionals can ensure comprehensive care for patients showing signs of meningitis, thus improving their prognosis and quality of life post-recovery.

What is the Kernig's and Brudzinski's sign?
What is the Kernig's and Brudzinski's sign?

Commonly asked questions

What is the Kernig's and Brudzinski's sign?

Kernig's and Brudzinski's signs are both clinical tests used to diagnose meningitis. Kernig's sign is checked by extending the knee with the hip flexed and watching for pain, while Brudzinski's sign is positive if flexing the neck causes involuntary knee and hip flexion.

What is a positive Kernig's Sign?

A positive Kernig's sign occurs when there is resistance, pain, or inability to fully extend the knee when the hip is flexed at 90 degrees, indicating meningeal irritation.

How to test for meningitis physical exam?

Physical exams for meningitis include checking for Kernig's and Brudzinski's signs, observing the patient's ability to flex the neck, and other signs of neurological impairment that may suggest meningeal inflammation.

Join 10,000+ teams using Carepatron to be more productive

One app for all your healthcare work