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Encephalopathy is condition caused by diseases that affect large portions of the brain. The disease may affect the function and/or the structure of the brain leading to a wide range of physical and mental symptoms. An altered mental state, such as confusion and sudden mood changes, is often a hallmark of encephalopathy.
There are several causes of encephalopathy. Treating the underlying disease or injury causing the encephalopathy may reverse symptoms in some. Some causes of encephalopathy may result in lasting changes in the brain. If the brain injury is severe and cannot be reversed, it can be fatal.
Encephalopathy is caused by widespread dysfunction of the brain. Some common causes include:
If the flow of oxygen to the brain is disrupted, it can cause encephalopathy.
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An altered mental state may include:
Other symptoms may include:
Signs that encephalopathy may be getting worse include:
Medical care is needed right away for these symptoms.
You or your caregiver will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
To confirm the diagnosis and determine the cause or extent of the encephalopathy, your doctor may request:
The goal of treatment is to try to stop or reverse the damage by managing the condition causing the encephalopathy. Treatment is based on the cause, but may include:
Medical support may be needed through recovery, including a feeding tube or breathing support in cases of severe encephalopathy.
Many causes cannot be prevented. To help reduce the chance of encephalopathy:
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Cirrhosis. California Pacific Medical Center website. Available at: https://www.sutterhealth.org/diseases-conditions/hepatitis-liver-disease/cirrhosis. Accessed February 21, 2018.
NINDS encephalopathy page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Encephalopathy-Information-Page. Accessed February 21, 2018.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD Last Updated: 2/12/2016