Understanding Encephalitis

Encephalitis generally refers to a condition where the brain becomes inflamed as a result of a viral infection. The most severe and life threatening form of this condition is considered rare. There are generally two types of encephalitis, the primary and secondary encephalitis.

Primary encephalitis is caused by a direct viral infection to the brain and the spinal cord. Secondary encephalitis occurs when a viral infection happens elsewhere in the body and eventually travels into the brain, causing it to become inflamed.

Causes of encephalitis

The most common cause of encephalitis is a viral infection. There are also other bacterial infections that may lead to encephalitis. Parasitic infections in people with weakened immune systems may also lead to encephalitis. The most recent epidemics of encephalitis have been known to be caused by viruses transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks.

Symptoms of encephalitis

Viral encephalitis usually presents only mild symptoms. For mild cases, headache, sluggishness and irritability may be experienced.

For severe cases, patients may experience drowsiness, sudden fever, severe headaches that may further lead to nausea and vomiting, seizures, and confusion. The most severe signs of encephalitis in adults include mental disturbances and altered levels of consciousness.

How encephalitis is diagnosed?

Diagnosis of the condition includes analyzing the cerebrospinal fluid for presence of infection. Other means to determine the condition may involve taking an EEG or electroencephalography tests to measure the electrical activity in the brain. 

 Taking CT and MRI scans of the brain may also help doctors in diagnosing encephalitis. Other means include a brain biopsy and blood testing for presence of viral infection such as the West Nile virus in the bloodstream.

How to treat encephalitis?

For mild cases of encephalitis, a healthy diet as well as sufficient amounts of rest may be all that is needed. Medication may be used to help cope up with the other symptoms associated with the condition such as fever and headaches. Anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to help reduce the swelling in the brain.

Some types of encephalitis prove to be difficult to treat since some of the viruses that are causing them may not respond well to medication.