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Definition

Encephalitis is swelling of the brain which is a condition caused due to viral infection. Severe cases of encephalitis, while relatively unusual, can be critical. As unpredictable as it can get, even a single case of encephalitis has to be diagnosed at the right time and treated.

Symptoms

Most patients with viral encephalitis commence with either no symptoms or light flu-like signs, such as the following:

  • Headache
  • Pain in muscles / joints
  • Fever
  • Weakness

Severe cases need to be addressed immediately. Further symptoms of more serious encephalitis may include:

  • Delirium
  • Convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness or paralysis in some areas of the face or body
  • Muscle soreness
  • Double vision
  • Feeling of foul odor, such as charred meat or rotten eggs
  • Troubles with speech or hearing

Signs of encephalitis in infants and young children could include:

  • Bulging in the soft spots of the skull
  • Nausea and queasiness
  • Body inflexibility
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Poor eating habits
  • Irritability

Risk Factors

Anybody can develop encephalitis. Factors that could increase the risk of the condition include:

  • Age: Infants and older adults are at higher risk of developing encephalitis. It is more common from the herpes simplex virus in people among the 20 - 40 age group.
  • Low Immunity: Patients who have HIV/AIDS, take immune-suppressing medicines, or have any another condition causing weakened immune systems are at higher risk.
  • Geographic Spread and Seasons: Encephalitis is more prone in geographical regions where mosquito-borne or tick-borne viruses are common. Seasons of the year especially spring, summer and early fall also breed mosquitoes and tick-borne diseases. They also contribute to the spread of encephalitis.

Diagnosis

Diagnostic tests consist of the following:

  • Brain Imaging: It is often the first test if symptoms suggest the possibility of encephalitis. The images may disclose swelling of the brain or any other condition that may be the root cause of the symptoms, such as a tumor. Technologies may include Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), which can produce detailed cross-sectional and 3-D images of the brain, or Computerized Tomography (CT) scan .
  • Spinal Tap (Lumbar Puncture): During a spinal tap, the physician inserts a needle into the lower back to extract the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the shielding fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal column. Any change in the fluid signifies an infection and inflammation in the brain.
  • Other Lab Tests: Samples of blood or urine or secretions from the rear side of the throat can be tested for viruses or other infectious agents.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): The doctor may order an EEG, a test in which sequences of electrodes are pinned to the scalp. The EEG records the electrical movement of the brain and any abnormality that is consistent with the diagnosis is recorded.
  • Brain biopsy: Rarely, a process to extract a small sample of brain tissue is done if symptoms are aggravating and treatments are ineffective.

Treatment

Treatment for mild cases, which may be mistaken as the flu, mainly consists of:

  • Complete bed rest
  • Increased fluid intake
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs— such as Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen and Naproxen Sodium to reduce headaches and temperature

Supportive Care

Additional supportive care also is needed in the hospital for individuals with severe encephalitis. The care may include:

  • Breathing assistance, constant monitoring of breathing and heart beat
  • Intravenous fluids to ensure adequate hydration
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as corticosteroids, to ease the swelling and pressure within the skull
  • Anticonvulsant medications, such as phenytoin , to prevent seizures

Follow-up Therapy

After the initial sickness, it may be necessary to undergo additional therapy depending on the severity. Therapy includes:

  • Physical therapy to improve strength and mobility
  • Occupational therapy to build up everyday skills
  • Speech therapy to relearn muscle control and regenerate speech
  • Psychotherapy to gain knowledge of survival strategies and new behavioral skills
 
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