Encephalitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Health / Life

Tick-borne Encephalitis illustration, tick transmitting arboviruses / Photo by Shutterstock


Encephalitis is the acute inflammation or swelling of the brain that is usually caused by a viral infection or the body’s immune system which is attacking the brain tissue. Most doctors in clinical practice consider encephalitis as a viral disease. Viruses, including those responsible for causing chickenpox, measles, and cold sores may even cause encephalitis.

The Encephalitis Symptoms

Post-infectious or secondary encephalitis occurs when the immune system is responding to a previous infection and is mistakenly attacking the brain tissue. The encephalitis symptoms, in this case, includes a headache, fever, or an excessive sensitivity to light. One may also experience seizures or general weakness.

The less common symptoms of encephalitis include nuchal rigidity or neck stiffness, which may lead to misdiagnosing it as meningitis. Some patients may further experience slow movements, clumsiness, or stiffness of the limbs. The patient may also have a cough or feels drowsy.

More serious encephalitis symptoms are severe headaches, confusion, vomiting, nausea, memory loss, disorientation, hearing problems, speech problems, and hallucinations. 

In infants, the symptoms include incessant crying that doesn’t get any better even if the baby is comforted or picked up. The body of the infant is also stiff.


Man having stiff neck in the morning / Photo by Getty Images


Post Inflammatory Rash in Encephalitis

The West Nile encephalitis was clinically diagnosed in the US in 1999. The disease was transmitted by a bite from an infected mosquito or after transplantation of an infected organ or transfusions of infected blood products and blood. Symptoms will include post Inflammatory rash and swollen lymph glands.


Woman suffering from swollen lymph glands / Photo by Getty Images

The Common Encephalitis Causes

Since there are different types of encephalitis, such as tick-borne encephalitis, rabies that spreads from a bite, and the Japanese encephalitis spread by mosquitoes, there are also different causes.

Encephalitis causes include a direct infection by a virus that affects the brain or the immune system itself attacking the brain tissue. The infectious encephalitis causes may be caused by common viruses, including EBV and herpes simplex virus, or childhood viruses, including mumps and measles.


Morbillivirus measles infection / Photo by Wikimedia Commons


About Fulminant Hepatic Failure and Encephalitis

Hepatic encephalopathy or HE is related to subsequent neurologic complications and cerebral edema - the increased intracranial pressure. It is also known as the most important cause of mortality and morbidity in a fulminant hepatic failure, which implies either the acute massive destruction of liver tissue or other process causing rapid deterioration in the function of a once normal liver. That is why in the diagnosis of the condition, fulminant hepatic and encephalitis may be both checked.


Hepatic failure diagnosis / Photo by Getty Images


What are the Encephalitis Complications?

Encephalitis complications vary, depending on the factors, such as the person’s age, the severity of the initial illness time of disease onset to the treatment, and the cause of infection. The inflammation may injure the patient’s brain, which can possibly result in coma or death. Other complications vary in severity. These include persistent fatigue, lack of muscle coordination or weakness, personality changes, paralysis, memory problems, vision or hearing defects, and speech impairments.


Man fall asleep while working due to over fatigue / Photo by Getty Images


Encephalitis Diagnosis and Procedure

The doctor will first ask about the symptoms that the patient experiences. Then, other tests may also be performed, including lumbar puncture or spinal tap. As part of the encephalitis diagnosis, the doctor will insert a needle into the lower back of the patient and collect a spinal fluid sample. This will be sent to the lab to check for infections.

Brain imaging, electroencephalography, or blood tests may also be conducted.


Lumbar puncture / Photo by Wikimedia Commons


The Different Forms of Encephalitis Treatments

For mild encephalitis, the treatment usually involves bed rest, drinking plenty of fluids, use of antiviral drugs, or use of anti-inflammatory drugs. Some insect-borne viruses may not respond to these encephalitis treatments, although certain virus could not be immediately identified. The doctor may suggest for an acyclovir, which is effective against HSV.

Supportive care, such as breathing assistance, anticonvulsant medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, and intravenous fluids are also parts of the treatment.


Woman confined for bed rest / Photo by Getty Images