Encephalitis (en-ceph-a-li-tis) is inflammation of the brain. It’s an uncommon non-traumatic brain injury, but can cause severe damage or even death.

Causes of encephalitis include bacteria, parasites (such as ticks), and viral infections. There are several different strains of encephalitis, often stemming from the different viruses (for example, the West Nile virus).

Symptoms of encephalitis

Symptoms of encephalitis include:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nausea
  • Stiffness in the neck

More serious symptoms include seizures, tremors and hallucinations.

Encephalitis vs. meningitis

The symptoms of encephalitis are similar to those of meningitis. That’s because both are inflammation in the brain. Inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (called meninges) is meningitis, while encephalitis is inflammation of the brain tissue.

When to seek medical attention

Many of the symptoms for encephalitis overlap with more mild conditions, such as flu. But you should seek medical attention if the symptoms – particularly fever and confusion – appear suddenly without no clear cause.

Diagnosis of encephalitis

Doctors will use MRI or CT scans, electroencephalograms (EEG), or blood and spinal fluid tests to determine whether or not you have encephalitis.

Treatment of encephalitis

Treatment of encephalitis is dependent on the root cause and consultation with a medical team. Antiviral or antibiotic medications may be recommended to help reduce swelling and manage symptoms. Encephalitis can cause damage to the brain which can result in cognitive, behavioural, or physical changes – for example, trouble with memory, coordination or muscle weakness. Depending on the severity of damage to the brain, further treatment and rehabilitation may be needed.

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Non-Traumatic Brain Injury (nTBI)

An acquired brain injury (ABI) refers to any damage to the brain that occurs after birth and is not related to a congenital or a degenerative disease. There are two types of acquired brain injury: non-traumatic and traumatic.

Topics in this section include:

Non-traumatic brain injury

Non-traumatic acquired brain injuries are caused by something that happens inside the body, or a substance introduced into the body that damages brain tissues.

This includes:

A video on acquired brain injury

Acquired brain injury affects every part of a person’s life. This includes changes to your independence, abilities, work, and relationships with family, friends, and caregivers. Since a brain injury differs from person to person and recovery depends on several factors, in many cases it’s difficult to know what long-term behavioural, cognitive, physical or emotional effects there will be.

The effects of brain injury can be put in the following categories [1]:

Behavioural changes: The way a person acts or makes decisions can change after a brain injury. Behavioural changes include engaging in risky or impulsive behaviour, having difficulty with social and work relationships and isolation. This can be stressful and depending on the behaviour can cause safety concerns. Rehabilitation and medical teams will be able to provide practical tips for behaviour after a brain injury.

Cognitive changes: This is how the brain learns, processes information, forms memories and makes decisions. Challenges include communication, concentration, reading/writing, making decisions, and remembering things.

Emotional changes: after a brain injury, a person may experience new or different emotions, including depression, anxiety, and/or anger. Emotional changes are difficult to adjust to, and it’s important to have a support system of family, friends, and medical professionals.

Physical changes: In some cases, a brain injury will have physical effects. These effects include mobility challenges, headaches, fatigue, pain and sensory changes.

Is a concussion a brain injury?

A concussion is an acquired brain injury. Anyone who sustains a concussion can experience many of the physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioural effects that accompany acquired brain injuries.

Concussion is also known as mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that has no neuroimaging findings. The term mild does not diminish the impacts that concussion can have on your health and activities of daily living (ADLs).

The challenges of prognosis

Prognosis means the likely path a disease or injury will take. In the case of acquired brain injury, prognosis is meant to give a best estimate of effects and recovery. Acquired brain injuries are all different, and there are a lot of factors that will impact a prognosis of recovery.

Factors that affect prognosis include:

  • Severity of injury
  • Previous injuries and existing conditions
  • Access to treatment
  • Age
  • Location of injury

Research shows that there is no system or set of variables that can accurately predict outcome for a single patient [2]. There is no definite timeline for recovery – it’s different for everyone. Doctors will update their prognosis as recovery progresses and provide next steps at the same time.

This section of our website covers the kinds of changes you may experience, management tips, and information on the kinds of tools and services that can help you and your family navigate living with brain injury.


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