Encephalitis is inflammation and swelling of the brain. This leads to changes in neurological function, resulting in mental confusion and seizures.
The cause of encephalitis depends on the season, the area of the country, and the type of exposure. Viruses are the leading cause of encephalitis. Vaccines for many viruses, including measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox have greatly lowered the rate of encephalitis from these diseases. But, other viruses can also cause encephalitis. These include herpes simplex virus and rabies.
Encephalitis can also occur after an infection caused by disease-carrying agents including ticks (Lyme disease), mosquitoes (West Nile virus), and cats (toxoplasmosis). Encephalitis can also be caused by bacteria.
Encephalitis often follows a viral illness such as an upper respiratory infection, or a gastrointestinal illness, that may cause diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting. The following are the most common symptoms of encephalitis:
In severe cases, symptoms may include:
The symptoms of encephalitis may look like other problems or medical conditions. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your healthcare provider can diagnose encephalitis based on your symptoms and with diagnostic testing. During the exam, your healthcare provider will ask about your medical history, including what immunizations you’ve had. He or she may also ask if you have recently had a cold or other respiratory illness, or a gastrointestinal illness, if you.ve recently had a tick bite, have been around pets or other animals, or have traveled to certain areas of the country.Tests that may be done to confirm encephalitis may include:
The goal of treatment is to reduce the swelling in the head and to prevent other related complications. Your healthcare provider may use medicines to control the infection, seizures, fever, or other conditions.
Complications of encephalitis depend on the severity of inflammation and whether you have other organ problems. Mild cases are usually short and result in a full recovery. In severe cases, a breathing machine may be needed to help you breathe easier. Severe cases can cause permanent impairment including fatigue, irritability, impaired concentration, seizures, hearing loss, memory loss, and blindness. In some severe cases, the disease progresses rapidly causing death.
These measures can help prevent encephalitis:
If you are exposed to someone with bacterial encephalitis, you may be offered a course of antibiotics to prevent you from getting the disease.
As you recover, physical, occupational, or speech therapy may help regain muscle strength and speech skills.
Loved ones can be educated on how to best care for you at home. You will require frequent medical evaluations following hospitalization.
Contact your healthcare provider if there are signs of another infection including:
Also, signs of neurological involvement such as:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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