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Encephalitis: Understanding the Brain Inflammation that Demands Attention

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Encephalitis: Understanding the Brain Inflammation that Demands Attention

Neuro Sciences | by Dr. Kallol Kr. Dey | Published on 18/12/2023


Do you often feel sensitive to light and sound or have recently experienced paralysis? Well, if yes, then you might get it checked as it is an indication of encephalitis. One of the medical conditions that leads to brain inflammation and factors like viral or bacterial infection causes this. You must be mindful of the condition hence in this article you will find relevant and comprehensive information. 

If you notice symptoms like fatigue, nausea, vomiting, memory loss, etc., you must book your appointment with one of the best neurologists in Kolkata at the Calcutta Medical Research Institute. Kindly note this blog is for informative purposes and we do not interrupt the neurologists doctor’s consultation in any way. 

What is Encephalitis?

Encephalitis is among the medical conditions determined by the brain inflammation. Certain factors such as bacterial or viral infections or autoimmune reactions lead to this inflammation. The word encephalitis originated from "en," which means "in," and "kephalđ," which means "head," highlighting the impact of inflammation on the brain.

Encephalitis commencement is sudden ranging from mild to severe symptoms. The early indicators of this condition are fever, headaches, and the usual feeling of being unwell. More severe symptoms like confusion, seizures, and in more serious cases, coma, may emerge as the inflammation deteriorates. However, anyone can come in contact with encephalitis at any age, the elderly and young are usually more susceptible.

What are Encephalitis Symptoms?

Understanding the encephalitis symptoms immediately is essential to seek clinical attention and discover the right treatment solution. Here are some of the common symptoms of encephalitis:

  • Fever and Headache: Flu-like symptoms, such as fever and headache, are often noticed in the initial stages of encephalitis. A usual feeling of illness and fatigue accompany these symptoms.
  • Changed Mental State: It appears as difficulty focusing, confusion, irritability, or disorientation. In severe cases, patients pass out or experience hallucinations.
  • Seizures: Seizures is an abnormal electrical activity in the brain caused by encephalitis. The severity of seizures differs which can be focal or widespread.
  • Sensitivity to Light and Sound: Photophobia, or heightened sensitivity to light and sound is also one of the common symptoms of encephalitis. Bright light or loud noise exposure symptoms strengthen these feelings.
  • Stiff Neck: One of the signs of this condition is a stiff neck causing pain and making it difficult to bend the head forward. It indicates meninges which are membranes covering the irriated brain and spinal cord.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and vomiting synchronize with encephalitis. These signs aggravate dehydration and endanger the person's health even more.
  • Weakness or Paralysis: Encephalitis often occurs in paralysis or severe muscle weakness. This impacts different body parts and can be either short-lived or, in more serious situations, permanent.
  • Behavioral Changes: Acute encephalitis causes emotional instability, mood swings, and personality or behavioral changes. People become nervous, aggressive, or withdrawn.

What are Encephalitis Causes?

Several different encephalitis causes include bacterial and viral infections and autoimmune reactions. Understanding these triggers is vital for exact diagnosis and better intervention. Here are some of the common causes of encephalitis:

  • Infections with viruses: Most cases of encephalitis have a viral cause. Among the viruses related to encephalitis are the varicella-zoster virus, enteroviruses, arboviruses (carried by mosquitoes and ticks), and herpes simplex virus (HSV).
  • Bacterial Infections: However, they are less common than viral ones, and bacteria, can still cause encephalitis. Inflammation can be caused by bacterial infections spreading to the brain, which are Streptococcus pneumonia, Neisseria meningitidis, and Mycoplasma pneumoniae.
  • Autoimmune Disorders: When the body's immune system accidentally targets healthy brain cells, encephalitis occurs. Antibodies targeting particular proteins in the brain are formed in conditions like autoimmune encephalitis, which results in inflammation.
  • Parasitic infections: They can cause encephalitis. Inflammation is caused by brain infections caused by parasites such as Baylisascaris procyonis and Toxoplasma gondii.
  • Fungal Infections: Fungus-induced encephalitis targets people with weak immune systems. Fungi causing encephalitis include Aspergillus species and Cryptococcus neoformans.
  • Environmental Factors: Encephalitis occurs from an inflammatory response in the brain caused by exposure to particular chemicals, allergens, or environmental toxins.
  • Post-Infectious Encephalitis: Following a bacterial or viral infection, encephalitis usually occurs as a complication. After beating the usual infection, the immune system proceeds to target the brain tissues, causing inflammation.
  • Vaccination: Encephalitis is a fallout of certain vaccinations. This is a very uncommon occurrence that needs to be weighed against the generally enormous benefits of vaccination over the risks.

How is Encephalitis Diagnosed?

Encephalitis diagnosis involves a systematic and multidimensional technique combining medical assessments, laboratory tests, and advanced imaging methods. The intricacy of encephalitis occurs from its several probable causes that include viral and bacterial infections, autoimmune reactions, and other factors. Here is an overview of the diagnostic process of encephalitis:

  • Clinical Assessment: A thorough assessment of the patient's clinical history is vital. A comprehensive examination of symptoms is essential including identifying the presence of fever, changed mental status, seizures, and neurological anomalies. 
  • Laboratory Tests: Blood samples are evaluated to assess for signs of infection, inflammation, or autoimmune activity. Second, a lumbar puncture is ordered to gather cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The fluid assessment helps identify increased white blood cell count, aggravated protein levels, or the presence of infectious agents.
  • Imaging Studies: CT Scan or MRI: Imaging studies provide comprehensive brain images to identify structural anomalies, areas of inflammation, or other conditions. CT scans or MRIs are useful tools in assessing the extent and location of brain involvement.
  • Electroencephalogram (EEG): EEG helps in measuring the brain’s electrical activity. Unusual patterns, such as epileptic activity, can be identified. This test helps in assessing the severity of neurological dysfunction and assists in guiding treatment decisions.
  • Viral and Bacterial Testing: Specific serological tests are performed to determine antibodies or antigens associated with specific viruses or bacteria. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or other molecular techniques help in identifying the genetic material of viruses or bacteria in medical samples.
  • Brain Biopsy (Rarely): In some cases, where the diagnosis remains unsure, a brain biopsy is performed. This involves removing a small brain tissue sample for examination under a microscope.
  • Genetic Testing (Rarely): Genetic testing is performed in specific cases, mainly when there is suspicion of a genetic predisposition to autoimmune encephalitis.

What are the options for Encephalitis Treatment?

Encephalitis treatment combines a varied approach intended to address the underlying cause, symptoms management, and support the patient’s overall health. Here is an outline of the available treatments for encephalitis is provided below:

  • Antiviral Drugs: Antiviral drugs are often recommended when viral infections are identified to be the primary cause of encephalitis. Antiviral therapy helps to reduce the intensity and length of symptoms.
  • Antibiotics: These are ordered to treat bacterial encephalitis. The specific bacterial pathogen leading to infection identifies which antibiotics are suitable for the condition. Antibiotics help to control the infection and prevent complications.
  • Immunosuppressive Therapy: Immunosuppressive drugs are recommended for autoimmune encephalitis, a condition in which the immune system accidentally targets the brain. Inflammation is decreased and the immune response is inflected by corticosteroids and other immunosuppressants.
  • Supportive care: The principle component of treating encephalitis is supportive care which aims to manage the patient's overall health while reducing symptoms. It combines actions like pain relief, fever-reducing drugs, and intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Handling Seizures: The primary side effect of encephalitis is seizures. Hence, antiepileptic drugs are often prescribed to treat and avoid seizures, thereby improving the patient's general neurological health.
  • Ventilatory Support: Ventilatory support is necessitated in serious cases of encephalitis if respiratory function is impaired. To confirm sufficient oxygenation, this combines mechanical ventilation for assisted breathing.
  • Rehabilitation: Following encephalitis' acute phase, rehabilitation is essential for fostering recovery. To manage any residual neurological shortfalls and enhance functional abilities, recommendations for physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are produced.


In conclusion, encephalitis is a life-threatening medical illness struck by inflammation of the brain that is often caused by bacterial or viral infections or autoimmune responses. The right treatment and prompt diagnosis are vital for controlling the illness and reducing any long-term effects. The continuous fight against encephalitis and its effects on people's health depends heavily on public awareness campaigns, preventative health initiatives, and advancements in medical research.

Faq -


Is encephalitis curable?

Well, this depends from person to person as some might recover after a long treatment while some might suffer from memory loss or amnesia.

Can encephalitis cause death?

Yes, encephalitis leads to death in severe cases whereas survivors experience issues with hearing loss, memory loss, appetite loss, irritability, fatigue, etc.