Encephalopathy - Symptoms, causes and treatment

Encephalopathy is a term that refers to abnormalities in the structure or function of the brain due to a condition or disease. These structural or functional abnormalities can be temporary, but can also be permanent, so prompt detection and treatment is necessary to increase the chances of recovery.

Encephalopathy Symptoms

Symptoms of encephalopathy can be in the form of changes in mental conditions, including loss of concentration, impaired coordination of movement, and loss of ability to solve problems or make decisions. In addition to mental changes, encephalopathy can cause neurological symptoms, including:

  • Twitching body parts.
  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking.
  • Muscle weakness in one limb.
  • seizures.
  • Decreased consciousness, ranging from looking drowsy to coma.

Causes of Encephalopathy

The following are conditions that can cause encephalopathy:

  • Lack of oxygen supply to the brain, for example due to infection or lack of blood.
  • Electrolyte disturbance.
  • Blood pressure that is too low or too high.
  • Poisoning or drug side effects.
  • Liver disease, including jaundice.
  • Head injury.
  • Kidney failure.
  • Hashimoto's disease.
  • Glycine protein that is too high in the brain, due to a genetic disorder.
  • Vitamin B1 deficiency triggered by alcoholism (Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome).
  • Lyme disease.
  • Mad cow disease.


Doctors will declare a patient has encephalopathy through the symptoms that appear. To find the cause, the doctor will ask for a previous medical history, plus a physical examination, including blood pressure checks. To further clarify, the patient requires further examination, it will be recommended to perform tests in the form of:

  • Complete blood count, to detect infection and lack of blood.
  • Culture of bacteria from a sample of blood or other body fluids, to detect the presence of infection.
  • Blood gas analysis to determine the level of oxygen in the blood.
  • Tests for toxic or drug levels in the blood.
  • Blood chemistry test, to determine the level of electrolytes, sugar, and waste substances that should be processed or removed by the liver and kidneys.
  • Liver and kidney function tests.
  • CT scan or MRI, to detect structural abnormalities of the brain.
  • Doppler ultrasound of neck veins, to detect impaired blood flow to brain tissue
  • Electroencephalography (EEG), to detect abnormalities of the brain's electrical waves.

Encephalopathy Treatment

Treatment for encephalopathy varies, depending on the cause, which can include:

  • Supplemental oxygen administration.
  • Infusion of fluids, electrolytes, to additional nutrition.
  • Antibiotics.
  • Lactulose drugs.
  • Dialysis or kidney transplantation in uremic encephalopathy.
  • Using drugs to increase or decrease blood pressure.

In addition to drugs, patients will also be adjusted to the type of food. Certain medical procedures, up to surgery can also be needed, such as dialysis to kidney transplantation in encephalopathy which causes kidney failure.

Encephalopathy Prevention

Some types of encephalopathy can still be prevented by taking simple steps. For example, encephalopathy caused by kidney failure can be prevented by adjusting a special diet for people with kidney disease. Or for patients who have already undergone dialysis, it is necessary to check with a kidney doctor regularly and remain consistent on dialysis.

For alcoholics, it is necessary to reduce the amount of consumption to avoid Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome.