Diagnosis and Treatment of Viral Encephalitis
What is Viral Encephalitis?
Encephalitis is the inflammation of the brain that is most often caused by a viral infection. The infection generally starts with a fever and a headache, with symptoms getting worse in time. While encephalitis is rare, it can be life-threatening and immediate professional assistance is required. At GNC Dubai, our team of professional neurologists will help patients identify causes and symptoms in order to provide efficient treatment for viral encephalitis.
Some viral diseases such as measles and rubella are known to progress to the point of inflammation of the brain. Bacteria, fungi and parasites are also capable of causing encephalitis, but enteroviruses are the leading cause.
Once the virus enters the bloodstream, it migrates to the brain where it then starts to multiply. The body will notice the infection and will trigger the immune system response which causes the brain to swell. This combination of infection with the immune response creates the symptoms of viral encephalitis.
Symptoms of Viral Encephalitis
Most patients will experience mild, flu-like symptoms, while others will have more severe ones. Common symptoms include:
- Sensitivity to light or sound
- Double vision
- Neck stiffness
- Loss of consciousness
- Confusion, agitation or hallucinations
- Paralysis in certain areas of the face or body
- Muscle weakness
- Problems with speech or hearing
Diagnosing Viral Encephalitis
In order to diagnose viral encephalitis, doctors will go through a patient’s medical history and conduct a physical examination. Doctors may recommend:
- Brain imaging: MRI or CT scans are able to reveal any brain swelling or other conditions that could be the cause of pertaining symptoms, such as a tumor.
- Spinal tap: a needle will be inserted in the lower back to remove a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that surrounds the brain and spinal column. Changes or abnormalities in the fluid can indicate an infection or an inflammation of the brain. Samples of the CSP can also be used to identify other viruses or infectious agents.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): doctors will place electrodes to the scalp in order to record the brain’s electrical activity. Abnormal patterns typically indicate an encephalitis diagnosis.
- Brain biopsy: on rare occasions, a small sample of brain tissue may be removed for testing purposes, but this is only done if symptoms get worse even during treatment.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): an MRI uses a combination of large magnets and radio frequencies to produce images of organs and structures within the body and will be able to detect abnormal patterns in the brain.
- Other lab tests involve extracting samples of blood, urine or excretions from the back of the throat to be tested for viruses or other infectious agents.
Risk Factors of Viral Encephalitis
Anyone is susceptible to developing viral encephalitis, but there are specific factors that could cause the infection:
- Age: some types of encephalitis are more common within certain age groups. Generally, older adults and young children are at high risk of most types of viral encephalitis.
- Weak immune systems: those who have a weakened immune system due to other conditions or those who take immune-suppressing drugs are at increased risk of encephalitis.
- Geography and seasons: mosquito or tick-borne viruses are common during the summer season and more prevalent in particular regions. People in these areas are also at high risk.
The key to treating viral encephalitis is detecting the infection early and starting treatment as soon as possible.
- An antiviral medicine if encephalitis is caused by the Herpes simplex or chickenpox
- Steroids if encephalitis is caused by problems within the immune system
- Immunoglobulin therapy, a medicine that helps control the immune system
- Surgery to remove abnormal growths or tumors, if the infection was triggered by a tumor elsewhere in the body
- Antibiotics or antifungal medicines if the infection was caused by a fungal or bacterial infection
- Plasmapheresis, a procedure that removes harmful substances from the blood that attack the brain