Encephalitis: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And Prognosis

When we want to refer to the inflammation of brain tissue we talk about encephalitis.. As with any other organ, this infection can have multiple origins. However, it is the most lethal of infections.

What is encephalitis?

Suffering from inflammation of the central nervous system can have serious consequences that leave permanent consequences. For this reason, it is important to be very clear about its symptoms and what we should do if we suspect encephalitis.

Without going into too many details and medical technicalities, let’s usefully see how encephalitis manifests itself.what origins are the most probable, and what treatment and prognosis can be expected from the patient who is suffering from it.


It is important to differentiate encephalitis from meningitis. The first consists of inflammation of the brain or spinal cord tissue. The second refers to inflammation of the meninges, the layers of tissue that separate the brain from the skull.

Encephalitis produces a clinical picture with symptoms that cover a very wide range of severity. The most common mild symptoms include those explained below.

1. Fever

As in any infection, the body defends itself against viral agents through fever. The increase in temperature helps kill the bacteria or virus that is causing the infection.

2. Headache

When we suffer an infection, the vessels usually dilate so that more blood reaches the infected area and can better combat external agents. What happens with this is that the area swells and compresses the tissue against the walls. This is why in encephalitis patients suffer from a headache.

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3. Stiff neck

Muscle pain is very common in all types of infectious processes, and encephalitis is no exception. In addition to pain, it is common to find that patients have very stiff neck and upper back muscles.

4. Tiredness

Due to the infection, it is common for the patient to feel exhausted. After all, the body needs all the energy it can get to fight the infection and rest is beneficial for recovery.

Because these symptoms are very general and frequent in infections, it will not be until the development of more serious and specific symptoms that encephalitis will be suspected. As a principle, more neurological symptoms reflect greater severity of the infection and greater urgency in its treatment. Neurological symptoms include:

Naturally, in the presence of any of these manifestations, the guideline of action is to go to a medical emergency. Neurological symptoms indicate severe involvement of the nervous system and can be potentially disabling, if not fatal.

The diagnosis will be made through lumbar puncture, which will allow the content of the cerebrospinal fluid to be analyzed to confirm the presence of signs of infection, through neuroimaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed axial tomography (CAT). Other methods include electroencephalograms, blood tests, or even a brain biopsy, where a tiny sample of brain tissue is removed to examine its contents.

Common causes

Our bodies are built in a surprisingly intelligent way. Especially when it comes to the nervous system, there are more obstacles and safety measures than one might suspect. There is a reason why most infectious processes do not spread to the brain. In order to prevent toxic substances in the blood from coming into contact with the cerebrospinal fluid in the brain and spinal cord, the body builds a barrier between the two.

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However, When some harmful agents transported in blood manage to penetrate the barrier, a problem occurs.: The body’s natural defenses cannot get past it either and the infection becomes difficult to treat. This is why many of the treatments are administered directly into the cerebrospinal fluid since they cannot get past the body’s own defenses.

Common viral infections

Although encephalitis can be caused by both viruses and bacteria, it is most common to find a viral infection.. The virus most frequently associated with encephalitis in developed countries is herpes. Although this virus normally only travels from the nerve to the skin, sometimes it reaches the brain, dangerously affecting the nervous system. Other common viruses include cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

There is a percentage of children who, because they do not get vaccinated when they should, suffer encephalitis due to infection with viruses against which they should be protected. These viruses include chickenpox and rubella. For this reason, among other things, it is essential to comply with the vaccine portfolio and protect the little ones from this type of infections.


In addition to common viruses, those transmitted through insect bites are another common cause of encephalitis. Mosquito bites and ticks are the ones that most frequently transmit these viruses., in the urban world and especially on trips to tropical areas where insects proliferate. For this reason, as a preventive measure it will be necessary to get vaccinated against these viruses.

Treatment and prognosis

Viruses that cause encephalitis are treated with antiviral drugs, usually from the entrance to the emergency room so as not to waste time. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, treatment will continue, unless bacterial infection is found, in which case antibiotics will be switched. In addition to this, intravenous fluids, anticonvulsants, antipyretics, and oxygen will be administered through a mask.

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The prognosis depends on the extent of brain damage. The longer the infection has lasted and the more severe it is, the greater the damage and the less function will be recovered over time. If the patient has not been severely affected, there may be problems with memory, executive functions, swallowing, mood disorders, concentration difficulties and all types of neurological symptoms produced by the destruction of neurons that remain even after the infection. . Similar to patients with dementia, it is possible to recover some functions through cognitive rehabilitation and training.