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What Is Metabolic Encephalitis?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated May 17, 2024
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Metabolic encephalitis is a condition defined by significant brain inflammation. Generally triggered by impaired liver function, individuals with metabolic encephalitis can sustain potentially irreversible brain damage. Individuals with encephalitis require hospitalization to treat both the underlying condition and the resulting infection and inflammation. Treatment involves clearing the individual’s system of the offending toxin or pathogen and is generally determined on a case-by-case basis.

A timely and appropriate diagnosis is key to a good prognosis. In addition to a complete physical examination, imaging tests, including a computerized tomography (CT) scan, may be conducted to evaluate the brain and check for signs of inflammation and swelling. Laboratory tests, such as a blood panel, are ordered to check for markers indicative of infection. Depending on the severity of one’s condition, a brain biopsy may also be performed, especially if the individual’s condition does not respond to initial treatment.

In most cases, metabolic encephalitis is caused by an existing disease or illness that significantly impairs liver function. The liver plays an essential role in filtering toxins from the body. If its ability to function is inhibited, toxins are left to accumulate in the body, leading to illness, inflammation, and infection. Metabolic encephalitis occurs when toxins settle in the bloodstream and cause inflammation in the brain. If toxins are left to accumulate unchecked, the brain swells, leaving the individual vulnerable to potentially irreversible brain damage.

Although everyone possesses some risk for encephalitis, certain individuals are considered at greater risk than others. Disease and illness that can affect liver function, such as diabetes and hepatitis, can significantly increase one’s chance for encephalitis. Those with compromised immunity who experience chronic infection are also at risk. Existing liver disease can dramatically increase one’s risk for metabolic encephalitis, especially if the person has active infection, regularly uses narcotic medication, or undergoes major surgery.

Symptoms of metabolic encephalitis are pattered, but may vary in degree of their severity. Individuals with metabolic encephalitis often experience cognitive impairment, like confusion or feeling disoriented. It is not uncommon for some people to exhibit personality changes or have impaired speech. Other signs of metabolic encephalitis include muscle rigidity and tremors. Rarely, some people experience seizures or may slip into a comatose state.

The ultimate goal of treatment is to reduce brain inflammation and eliminate infection from the body. Depending on the severity of the encephalitic symptoms, antiviral or antibiotic medications are given in combination with an analgesic, or pain reliever. Fluids may be administered to promote hydration. If symptoms are ignored or treatment is delayed, there is significant risk for permanent loss of one’s vision or hearing. Compromised organ function, such as diminished kidney function, can necessitate transplantation depending on the severity of damage the organ has sustained.

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Discussion Comments

By werterful — On Feb 26, 2014

Encephalitis survivors have symptoms similar to stroke victims such as memory loss and trouble speaking.

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