Vaccine-Related Encephalopathy

What is encephalopathy?

Encephalopathy is an umbrella term that describes a number of structural or functional brain conditions. It can be temporary or permanent, and ranges from mild memory loss to personality changes, dementia and seizures.

Encephalopathy can result from many conditions. For example, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is caused by multiple traumas or injuries to the brain.

What causes encephalopathy?

Most cases of encephalopathy result from:

  • Liver or kidney failure
  • Viral, bacterial or other infections
  • Brain trauma

Other common causes of this condition include:

  • Lack of oxygen to the brain
  • Various metabolic diseases
  • Brain tumors
  • Toxic chemicals
  • Poor nutrition from low vitamin B1 intake

What are the symptoms of encephalopathy?

Since encephalopathy describes a number of different brain issues, symptoms can vary extensively. They depend on the cause and severity of the specific type of encephalopathy.

Many people with encephalopathy have changes in their mental status, such as:

  • Difficulty with memory or focusing
  • Reduced problem-solving skills
  • Poor decision-making or concentration
  • Increased drowsiness and lethargy
  • Changes in personality

People with this condition may also have neurological symptoms including:

  • Muscle weakness in one area
  • Involuntary twitching or trembling
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Seizures

How is encephalopathy diagnosed?

In general, doctors diagnose encephalopathy when a person has an altered mental state along with another condition, such as brain injury or organ failure. The doctor performs a physical examination that assesses mental status, memory and coordination.

To find the underlying health issue that resulted in the encephalopathy, doctors use diagnostic tests that can include blood tests, imaging exams and metabolic tests.

Other tests may be ordered depending on the symptoms, and not all tests will be done on every patient.

How is encephalopathy treated?

Treatment for encephalopathy depends on the underlying cause. This can mean adjusting or beginning medications, surgery or other treatments for what caused the encephalopathy. In some cases, a nutritional supplement or a change in diet can help.

In severe cases of encephalopathy, life support may be needed to ensure the brain has enough oxygen while neurological issues are being treated.

Can vaccines cause encephalopathy?

While it’s a rare occurrence, vaccines are sometimes associated with encephalopathy. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program recognizes the MMR vaccine as a possible cause of encephalopathy. They also recognize vaccines used against pertussis such as the DTP or DTaP for this injury.

Children are more likely than adults to develop this condition from a vaccine. When they do, they may have symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Muscle weakness
  • Irritability
  • Decreased attention span
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • General body pains

If any of these symptoms appear, bring them immediately to a healthcare provider for evaluation and treatment. Symptoms are usually minor and don’t last long. However, in rare instances encephalopathy can be devastatingly severe and life-altering. Some children and adults with this condition require long-term care.

Have you been injured?

It’s not clear why vaccines can cause encephalopathy. If you think you or a loved one has vaccine-related encephalopathy, contact us for a free consultation. One of our vaccine injury attorneys can tell you your options and help you with what to do next.