What is Encephalopathy?
Encephalopathy is an umbrella term used to describe conditions that affect the function or structure of a person’s brain. There are many types of encephalopathy, both temporary and permanent, ranging in severity from mild memory loss to personality changes, dementia, and seizures. As encephalopathy is a catch-all term, there are many different types of encephalopathy that occur as a result of different causes. Typically, encephalopathy is preceded by terms that further describe the cause or condition of the patient that led to the development of encephalopathy. For example, Chronic Traumatic encephalopathy occurs, as indicated by the name, from multiple traumas or injuries to the brain, which may lead to varying degrees of brain damage.
What causes Encephalopathy?
There are many ways that an individual can develop encephalopathy. Some of the more common ways include:
- Infections – viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic
- Lack of oxygen to the brain
- Alcohol toxicity or withdrawal
- Liver failure
- Kidney failure
- Various metabolic diseases
- Brain tumors
- Toxic Chemicals
- Poor nutrition as a result of inadequate vitamin B1 intake
While these are some of the more common ways that an individual may develop encephalopathy, the majority of cases are as a result of organ failure, infection, or brain trauma. Though rare, encephalopathy can also develop as a result of an adverse reaction to vaccines. Though adults can be affected this, it typically occurs in children and may be the result of gene mutations, multiple immunizations at one time, enzyme dysfunction, or even from a resulting fever.
What are the symptoms of Encephalopathy?
As encephalopathy is a broad term that describes a number of different potential brain issues, symptoms can vary extensively. Symptoms will depend on the cause and severity of the encephalopathy. Most notably, individuals begin to experience mental status changes. This includes difficulty with memory or focusing, as well as a reduction of problem-solving skills. Some affected with encephalopathy may also experience changes in personality. Encephalopathy may also lead to increased drowsiness and lethargy. In addition to an altered mental state, individuals affected by encephalopathy may present with neurological symptoms, including the following:
- Muscle weakness in one area
- Poor decision-making or concentration
- Involuntary twitching
- Difficulty speaking or swallowing
Children affected by a vaccine-related encephalopathy may experience fevers, seizures, muscle weakness, irritability, and a decreased attention span. Some children may also complain of headaches, feeling tired and general body pains. Parents should monitor their children closely after vaccination and if any symptoms begin to appear immediately bring them to a healthcare provider for further treatment as needed. For the most part symptoms are minor and short term, but in rare instances can be devastatingly severe, life-altering and require long-term care.
How is Encephalopathy diagnosed?
Encephalopathy is typically diagnosed during clinical tests performed in a physical examination. This includes mental status tests, memory tests, and coordination tests to identify an altered mental state. In general, the diagnosis of encephalopathy occurs when there is an altered mental state accompanied by another primary diagnosis. Because there are so many varieties of encephalopathy, there are a number of accompanying tests that help to determine what the underlying health issue is that developed into encephalopathy. These diagnostic tests can include CT and MRI scans, autoantibody analysis, blood and body fluid cultures and analysis, and metabolic tests. This is far from a full list, and not all tests mentioned here will be performed on every patient.
How is Encephalopathy treated?
Because there are so many causes of encephalopathy, the treatment depends on the underlying cause. Treatments range from adjusting or beginning medications, surgery, or more, as the goal is to first treat the underlying cause of the encephalopathy. Your physician may even recommend nutritional supplements or a change in diet. In severe instances, an individual may be placed on life support to ensure the brain is properly oxygenated while neurological issues are being addressed.
Vaccinations regularly prevent disease outbreaks and the spread of diseases each year, but in very rare instances someone may suffer a serious, negative side-effect from an otherwise safe vaccine. Though the direct cause may not be clear as to why encephalopathy may develop as a result of vaccine administration, there are a handful of vaccines that have been associated with encephalopathy in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program‘s vaccine injury table. These include the MMR vaccine, and vaccines against pertussis such as the DTP or DTaP vaccines. If you or your child have developed encephalopathy as a result of any of these vaccines, you may qualify for compensation for those vaccine injuries through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), provided the injury developed as a result of receiving one of the vaccines covered under the NVICP and you meet certain criteria. Compensation under the NVICP is designed to cover pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses relating to the vaccination injury, as well as provide compensation for any past or future loss in income as a result of the injury. In addition, legal fees and costs related to the vaccine injury claim are covered so you do not incur any expenses for filing a claim.