There are various types of encephalopathy, and they have different causes:
- Chronic traumatic encephalopathy: This occurs following multiple injuries to the brain. Injuries could be due to direct blunt or penetrating traumas to the head leading to nerve damage in the brain.
- Hypertensive encephalopathy: This occurs due to untreated hypertension (increased blood pressure). This can cause brain damage.
- Hepatic encephalopathy: This occurs as a result of hepatic (liver) diseases. When the liver is damaged, toxins are released that can damage the brain.
- Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy: This occurs when there is hypoxia (decreased oxygenation) of the brain. This can occur during birth or be acquired (drowning and drug overdose) and can lead to permanent brain damage.
- Toxic-metabolic encephalopathy: This occurs due to infections, toxins, organ failure, and electrolyte or hormone imbalance, which affect the brain's function. This usually resolves when the cause is treated.
- Wernicke encephalopathy: This occurs due to vitamin B1 deficiency. Vitamin B1 deficiency can occur due to poor nutrition, poor absorption of nutrients, and chronic (long-term) alcoholism.
- Hashimoto’s encephalopathy: This is a rare type of encephalopathy that occurs due to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is an autoimmune disorder (the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells). In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the immune system attacks the cells of the thyroid gland.
- Infectious encephalopathies: Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies are also called prion diseases. Prions are proteins that are naturally present in the body. They have the ability to mutate and cause diseases that damage the brain. Some prion diseases include chronic wasting disease, kuru, and fatal familial insomnia.
- Uremic encephalopathy: This occurs due to the buildup of toxin uremia that occurs due to kidney failure.
- Glycine encephalopathy: This is genetic, or inherited, characterized by abnormally high levels of glycine (an amino acid) in the brain. The symptoms usually appear soon after birth.
What is encephalopathy?
Encephalopathy is defined as a disease or group of diseases in which the functioning of the brain is affected. There are various types of encephalopathies. They have different causes – either permanent or temporary. Some types may be present at birth, whereas others may be acquired.
What are the signs and symptoms of encephalopathy?
The symptoms and severity of the symptoms vary depending on the cause and severity of encephalopathy. Some common signs and symptoms that may occur are as follows:
When to see a doctor?
It is advised to see a doctor right away when any of the symptoms of encephalopathy appear. In the case of ongoing treatment for encephalopathy, the following signs require emergency medical treatment:
- Severe disorientation
- Severe confusion
- Severe lethargy and drowsiness
- Worsening of any preexisting signs and symptoms
What is the prognosis of encephalopathy?
Long-term prognosis depends on the cause and severity of encephalopathy. Many forms of encephalopathy are reversible if diagnosed early and treated appropriately. Some types progressively worse, whereas others may not. All types can have the potential to be fatal if not treated and are severe, whereas some types are always fatal.
Early diagnosis and treatment for the cause of encephalopathy may improve your symptoms or completely cure encephalopathy. Some types of encephalopathy can cause permanent damage to the brain. There are several treatment and rehabilitation plans available for encephalopathy.
Can encephalopathy be prevented?
Some types of encephalopathy that may be genetic cannot be prevented. Most of the other types are preventable.
Following lifestyle changes may help reduce the risk of encephalopathy:
- Avoiding drinking excess alcohol
- Maintaining target blood pressure as advised by the doctor
- Avoiding smoking. Besides nicotine, cigarettes contain several other toxic chemicals.
- Avoiding exposure to toxic chemicals such as asbestos or silicone dust
- Avoiding substance abuse (consuming recreational drugs)
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet
- Protecting the head from trauma by wearing a helmet when possible
- Avoiding home births
- Getting treatment for chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, infections, or kidney disease
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