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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