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January 31, 2024

Encephalitis is a type of inflammation that causes swelling in the brain. Causes include viral infections, an autoimmune reaction, and insect bite infections that affect your brain. It could be fatal or produce long-term consequences. Treatment varies, but most people require hospitalization to receive extensive care, including life support.

What is encephalitis?

Encephalitis is a medical term that refers to inflammation of the brain. Typically, it results from viral infections. It can also be triggered by bacterial or fungal agents. 

The inflammation can affect the brain’s structure and function. This can lead to a range of neurological symptoms. Encephalitis can be: 

·      Acute- developing rapidly and severely

·      Chronic- with a slower onset and persistent symptoms

What are the symptoms of encephalitis?

Encephalitis can manifest with a variety of symptoms, including:

·      Confusion

·      Seizures

·      personality changes

·      issues with movement

It may also impact sight or hearing. Individuals with infectious encephalitis often initially experience flu-like symptoms, including:

·      Headache

·      Aches in muscles or joints

·      Fever

·      Fatigue or weakness

Subsequently, more severe symptoms may emerge over hours to days, such as:

·      Stiff neck

·      Seizures

·      Agitation, confusion, or hallucinations

·      Problems with speech or hearing

·      Loss of sensation or inability to move certain areas of the face or body.

·      Muscle weakness

·      Irregular movements

·      Loss of consciousness, including coma

In infants and young children, signs and symptoms might also include:

·      Bulging in the fontanels or the soft spots of an infant’s skull.

·      Stiffness affecting the entire body

·      Nausea and vomiting

·      Irritability

·      Poor feeding or not waking for a feeding

What causes encephalitis?

Encephalitis can be caused by infections or autoimmune conditions.

1.  Infectious Encephalitis

This type occurs when a virus or another agent directly infects the brain. The infection may be localized or widespread. 

Viruses, most commonly those transmitted by mosquitoes or ticks, are the leading causes. Rarely, bacteria, fungi, or parasites may also be responsible.

2.  Autoimmune Encephalitis

This happens when the immune system makes a mistake and attacks the brain. It can also create antibodies that target proteins and receptors in the brain. We don’t fully understand why this happens. 

Tumors, whether they’re not harmful or cancerous, can sometimes cause this. It’s called paraneoplastic and autoimmune encephalitis. 

Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), might be caused by infections in the body, known as post-infectious autoimmune encephalitis. 

Treating Encephalitis

Detecting and treating encephalitis early is crucial for recovery.

For those with encephalitis, a period of monitoring in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is often necessary. This allows healthcare providers to watch for potential complications like:

·      Brain swelling

·      Seizures

·      Changes in heart rhythm

·      Respiratory failure

The specific treatment for encephalitis depends on its underlying cause and the symptoms present. It may involve:

1.  Antiviral Medications- Used to combat viral infections affecting the brain.

2.  Antibiotics- Addresses bacterial infections that may be causing encephalitis.

3.  Immunotherapy- Includes treatments like steroids, intravenous antibodies (IVIg), or plasma exchange, especially for certain types of autoimmune encephalitis.

4.  Seizure Control- Medications or other therapies may be prescribed to manage seizures.

In cases where encephalitis has led to loss of consciousness, additional measures may be necessary such as:

·      the use of a breathing tube

·      urinary catheter

·      feeding tube

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