Encephalopathy

This is a general term for a disease that alters a person’s brain function and mental state. Some types of encephalopathy include: Treating the cause can reverse symptoms. But, some forms of may result in lasting changes in the brain. If brain injury is severe and cannot be reversed, the disease can be fatal.

  • Causes

    The cause depends on the type of encephalopathy. Causes include:

    • Infection
    • Metabolic dysfunction
    • Brain tumor or increased pressure on the skull
    • Exposure to toxins
    • Poor nutrition
    • No oxygen or blood flow to the brain
    Oxygen and Blood Flow to the Brain
    oxygen brain lungs
    If the flow of oxygen to the brain is disrupted, it can cause encephalopathy.
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Definition

    This is a general term for a disease that alters a person’s brain function and mental state. Some types of encephalopathy include:

    • Glycine encephalopathy—caused by a metabolic disorder (how the cells make energy)
    • Hepatic encephalopathy
      —caused by liver disease
    • Hypoxic encephalopathy
      —caused by reduced oxygen to brain
    • Static encephalopathy—permanent brain damage
    • Uremic encephalopathy—caused by toxins remaining in the body
    • Wernicke’s encephalopathy—caused by a thiamine deficiency, usually due to alcoholism
    • Hashimoto’s encephalopathy—an autoimmune disorder (when your immune system attacks your body’s cells)

    • Hypertensive encephalopathy—caused by very
      high blood pressure
    • Toxic-Metabolic encephalopathy—a general term to describe encephalopathies caused by infections, toxins, or organ failure

    Treating the cause can reverse symptoms. But, some forms of may result in lasting changes in the brain. If brain injury is severe and cannot be reversed, the disease can be fatal.

  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will:

    • Ask about your symptoms
    • Take your medical history
    • Do a physical exam

    Tests may include:

    • Blood tests
    • Spinal tap
      —removal of a small amount of spinal fluid for testing
    • CT scan
      —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the brain
    • MRI scan
      —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the brain
    • Electroencephalogram (EEG)
      —a test that records the brain’s activity by measuring electrical currents through the brain

  • Prevention

    Many causes cannot be prevented. Take these steps to help reduce your chance of getting encephalopathy:

    • Get early treatment for liver problems. If you have any of the above symptoms, call your doctor right away.
    • If you have a disease, see your doctor regularly.
    • Avoid overdosing on drugs, alcohol, or medicines.
    • Avoid being exposed to poisons or toxins.

  • Risk Factors

    Risk factors vary. For example, alcohol abuse puts you at risk for Wernicke’s encephalopathy.

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may include:

    • Sudden or progressive changes in memory
    • Inability to concentrate
    • Abnormal drowsiness
    • Progressive loss of consciousness
    • Subtle personality changes

    • Neurological symptoms:

      • Involuntary muscle twitches
      • Tremor
      • Muscle weakness
      • Seizures

    Signs that encephalopathy may be getting worse include:

    • Severe confusion
    • Disorientation
    • Drowsiness
    • Coma

    Medical care is needed right away for these symptoms.

  • Treatment

    The doctor will try to stop or reverse the underlying condition. Treatment options include: