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"Could my stiff neck be the sign of a serious illness?"

ZocdocAnswersCould my stiff neck be the sign of a serious illness?

Question

I've had a stiff neck for around a week that doesn't want to go away. Is this a symptom of something serious like encephalitis?

Answer

You are definitely right to be concerned about a new symptom that is lasting for an extended period of time. In particular, the acute onset of a stiff neck, along with fever and headache, can be very worrisome for a serious disease like meningitis. Your symptoms have been going on for a week which means you likely do not have meningitis, but you should be evaluated by a doctor right away to determine what other testing might be required. Severe muscle strain/spasm (called torticollis) can cause significant neck pain without being a life-threatening issue, but any kind of central nervous system infection (including a subacute viral infection) can be very serious. The most important thing to determine when a patient presents with a stiff neck such as yours is what other symptoms and exam findings are associated with it. Evaluating whether you've had a fever/chills, travel, sick contact exposure, headache, nausea, vomiting, vision changes, or any abnormalities on a neurological exam will be crucial--which is why it is so important you be evaluated right away! Please see your doctor.

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Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.

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