Encephalitis is an acute inflammation of the brain
usually caused by a viral infection. The course of
viral encephalitis varies. Most people infected with
viral encephalitis have only mild or no symptoms, and
the illness doesn't last long. Serious cases can
cause headaches, high fevers, lethargy, convulsions,
delirium, coma, and even death, or may leave significant
mental impairment. Impairment can include loss of memory,
the inability to speak coherently, lack of muscle
coordination, paralysis, or hearing or vision defects.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Encephalitis
There are several warning signs and symptoms that may be
result of encephalitis. Somoe of these are mild and
non-specific, while others are severe and require
immediate attention. Among the signs and symptoms for
Emergency signs and symptoms may include seizures, muscle
weakness, and altered levels of consciousness. In infants,
the key symptoms are a stiff neck and a bulging in the soft
spots of the skull (fontanelles). In older children, the
initial symptoms may be a severe headache and sensitivity
to light. In adults, mental disturbances may be more
prominent as an initial symptom.
- Confusion and disorientation;
- Sudden fever;
- Severe headache;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Bulging in the soft spots (fontanelles) of
the skull in infants;
- Stiff neck - occasionally; and
- Photophobia (abnormal visual sensitivity
The diagnosis of encephalitis once sings and symptoms appear
may involve one or more of the following tests:
- Spinal tap (lumbar puncture) The most
common way to diagnose encephalitis is to
analyze the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding
your brain and spinal cord. A needle inserted
into the spine extracts a sample of fluid
for laboratory analysis. Analysis of the fluid
may reveal presence of an infection or an
increased white blood count, a signal that
the your immune system is fighting an infection.
If hemorrhages have occurred, the your cerebrospinal
fluid may be slightly bloody. Diagnosis of
herpes simplex encephalitis is sometimes difficult.
Advances using sensitive deoxyribonucleic acid
(DNA) methods have allowed detection of virus in
the spinal fluid, confirming the diagnosis.
- Electroencephalography (EEG) This procedure,
measures the waves
of electrical activity produced by the brain. It is
often used to diagnose and manage seizure disorders.
Electrodes are attached
to the scalp, and the patient is asked to
still and to breathe deeply and steadily
for several minutes or to stare at a patterned board.
At times, a light may be flashed in the
patient's eyes. These
actions are meant to stimulate your brain. The
electrodes pick up the electrical impulses from the
brain and send them to the EEG machine, which records
the brain waves on a moving sheet of paper.
- Brain imaging A computerized tomography (CT)
or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may reveal
swelling of the brain. This swelling may be
localized in herpes simplex encephalitis. The scan
may reveal another condition with signs and symptoms
similar to encephalitis, such as a concussion.
- Brain biopsy Rarely, if diagnosis of herpes
simplex encephalitis wasn't possible using DNA methods
or by CT or MRI scans, a small sample of brain tissue
may be taken. This sample will be analyzed in the
laboratory to see if the virus is present. The patient
receive treatment first with an antiviral agent. If
the patient does not improve with antiviral treatment,
then the doctor may suggest a brain biopsy.
To treat encephalitis in the early stages of the illness,
an antiviral agent may be prescribed. An
anticonvulsant medication may need to be prescribed to prevent or
treat seizures. Anti-inflammatory drugs or medications that
reduce brain swelling and inflammation and reduce pressure
within the skull also may also need to be used. Treatment
should be started early in the
course of the disease.
Complications from Delayed Treatment
The prognosis for encephalitis varies. Some cases are mild,
short and relatively benign and patients make a full recovery.
Other cases are severe, and permanent impairment or death
is possible without immediate diagnosis and treatment. With
early diagnosis and prompt treatment, most patients recover.
The severity of complications from encephalitis
can increase the longer the disease is present without
treatment. Complications include:
- respiratory arrest;
- marked mental impairment;
- memory loss;
- inability to speak coherently;
- hearing and vision damage; and
If encephalitis is detected and properly treated before
it advances, the chances of survival without
serious consequences is significantly better than
if the encephalitis is not detected and treated
until it has reached a more advanced stage. Any
undue delay in diagnosing or treating encephalitis
can have tragic consequences. Unfortunately, too often
warning signs are ignored, and treatment is delayed.
The following are among the more common forms of
negligence or medical malpractice by physicians in
diagnosing and/or treating patients with encephalitis:
The above are only examples and are by no means intended
to be an exhaustive list of acts of malpractice.
- Failing to test for encephalitis when a patient
reports warning signs or symptoms that can be
caused by encephalitis
- Delaying the diagnosis of encephalitis
- Failing to order appropriate treatment for
a patient with encephalitis
- Failing to follow-up with the patient
If you or someone you love have suffered from serious
complications of encephalitis due to the neglect of a
physician or other health care provider, you should
immediately contact a competent attorney.
The attorney will work with you to determine
legal options that may be available.
Call or email for a Free Attorney Consultation
Law Office of Joseph A. Hernandez, P.C.
Phone: (781) 461-9400
Toll Free: (866) 461-9400
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