This is a general term for a disease that alters a person’s brain function and mental state. Some types of encephalopathy include:
Treating the cause can reverse symptoms. But, some forms of may result in lasting changes in the brain. If brain injury is severe and cannot be reversed, the disease can be fatal.
The cause depends on the type of encephalopathy. Causes include:
Risk factors vary. For example, alcohol abuse puts you at risk for Wernicke’s encephalopathy.
Symptoms may include:
Signs that encephalopathy may be getting worse include:
Medical care is needed right away for these symptoms.
Your doctor will:
Tests may include:
The doctor will try to stop or reverse the underlying condition. Treatment options include:
Depending on the cause, your doctor may prescribe medicines. For example, if the cause is a toxin in the body, your doctor may prescribe medicines to lower the levels of the toxin.
Vitamins or supplements may also be given. In some cases, these may help prevent damage to the brain.
Your doctor may suggest changes to your diet. For example, if you have liver damage, you may need to limit how much protein you eat.
Tube feeding and life support may be needed, especially in the case of coma.
In some cases, you may need an organ transplant or dialysis. With dialysis, toxins are removed from the blood through a filtering process.
Many causes cannot be prevented. Take these steps to help reduce your chance of getting encephalopathy:
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Canadian Liver Foundation
Encephalopathy. California Pacific Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.cpmc.org/learning/documents/encephalopathy-ws.pdf . Updated May 2004. Accessed May 26, 2011.
Encephalopathy. Congress of Neurological Surgeons website. Available at: http://wiki.cns.org/wiki/index.php/Encephalopath . Updated July 2007. Accessed May 26, 2011.
NINDS encephalopathy page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.n... . Updated November 2010. Accessed May 26, 2011.
Smith N. Hepatic encephalopathy. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary/ . Updated September 2010. Accessed May 26, 2011.
Last reviewed June 2011 by J. Thomas Megerian, MD, PhD, FAAP
Last Updated: 8/18/2011