What are the Symptoms of Encephalitis?

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  • Written By: Lindsey Rivas
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2018
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The symptoms of encephalitis range from mild flu-like symptoms to more serious ones. Encephalitis is a condition usually caused by a viral infection, and it can be potentially fatal. Recognizing the symptoms of encephalitis in infants can sometimes be challenging, but the main signs are bulging of the soft spot on the skull and a stiff body. Children and adults with mild cases of encephalitis typically experience symptoms including fever, drowsiness, and headache. More severe cases can cause confusion, memory loss, hallucinations, and a change in behavior, among many other symptoms.

The swelling of the brain associated with encephalitis is generally caused by a viral infection. The virus might infect the brain and spinal cord primarily, or it might start elsewhere then spread to the brain. Some of the viruses that can cause the condition include chickenpox, measles, and the herpes simplex virus. It can result in permanent nerve and brain damage, or even death in severe cases.

Infants are particularly vulnerable to encephalitis because of their weak and developing immune systems, but the signs can be difficult to recognize. The most common symptoms of encephalitis in infants are a bulging soft spot on the skull and a body that is stiff. Some will also have vomiting along with flu-like symptoms. Additionally, they might be crying excessively, especially when picked up.


In mild cases, the symptoms of encephalitis in children and adults are similar to those of the flu, and they generally only last for two to three weeks. Symptoms include fever, tiredness, irritability, and sensitivity to light. One might also have headaches, body aches, and joint stiffness. A skin rash, vomiting, and clumsiness can be signs of the condition as well.

The symptoms of encephalitis in severe situations are more serious, as they can cause confusion and disorientation, memory loss, and hallucinations. It can also cause changes in personality such as lack of interest in activities, withdrawing oneself from social situations, and inappropriate or lack of moods. Other signs include vision trouble like blurry vision as well as difficulty speaking and hearing. One might also experience seizures or tremors, weak muscles, and possibly paralysis. Additionally, one might slip into unconsciousness.

If one experiences any of the severe symptoms of encephalitis, or has an infant who does, medical help should be sought immediately. Although some symptoms will gradually disappear on their own, it can take months to recover fully. The condition might require treatment such as medication to prevent permanent brain damage or death.



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