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:
Metabolic dysfunction—causes an imbalance in nutrients and electrolytes the brain needs to function
Brain tumor or increased intracranial pressure
Exposure to toxins
Poor nutrition—causes an imbalance in nutrients and electrolytes the brain needs to function
No oxygen or blood flow to the brain
Seizures and post-seizure dysfunction
Oxygen and Blood Flow to the Brain
If the flow of oxygen to the brain is disrupted, it can cause encephalopathy.
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
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