What Is Brain Inflammation?

A patient may be given intravenous antibiotics to treat brain inflammation.
Brain inflammation often causes joint pain, seizures, and nausea.
Viral infection usually cause brain inflammation.
Article Details
  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Brain inflammation is a potentially life-threatening condition characterized by brain swelling and, in some cases, meningeal irritation. Generally brought on by infection, brain inflammation can trigger a variety of symptoms depending on the severity of swelling. Encephalitis and meningitis are two main inflammatory brain conditions induced by infection. Treatment is dependent on the severity of one's condition and the cause of the inflammation.

Viral infection is usually the genesis of brain inflammation. Aggressive viruses can originate in one part of the body only to subsequently migrate to the brain, or they may attack the nervous system at the outset. Common viruses that may induce brain swelling include herpetic conditions, like Varicella-zoster, and West Nile. Brain inflammation may also occur due to parasitic or bacterial infection, such as that which can result from exposure to Toxoplasma gondii or Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Several diagnostic tests may be performed to confirm the presence of brain inflammation. Generally, a spinal tap will be conducted to obtain a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) specimen for analysis. Depending on the cause of the brain swelling, one’s CSF will demonstrate certain abnormalities or markers indicative of infection, such as an elevated white blood cell count and decreased glucose. A blood panel and imaging tests may also be used to assess antibody levels and measure the extent of brain swelling.

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It is not unheard of for individuals with mild brain inflammation to remain asymptomatic, meaning they experience no obvious signs that anything is wrong. Depending on the degree of inflammation, symptomatic individuals will generally present with a variety of signs that usually develop acutely. A sudden, pronounced deterioration of one’s condition, including loss of consciousness and paralysis, is considered indicative of severe inflammation necessitating immediate medical attention.

Initial swelling will usually induce symptoms that include persistent headache, lethargy and a low-grade fever. With time, an individual’s cognition may become impaired and he or she may experience confusion or exhibit uncharacteristic mood swings. It is not uncommon for joint stiffness and widespread muscle weakness to likewise occur. In some cases, seizures, skin irritation and nausea may also present.

If appropriate treatment is delayed or absent, brain inflammation can result in serious complications. Individuals may be left permanently physically disabled, go into shock, or experience widespread organ failure. Late-stage complications can result in coma and death.

Viral-based inflammation generally involves the administration of fluids to prevent dehydration, sufficient bed rest and the use of OTC analgesics to alleviate discomfort. Severe or persistent infection may necessitate hospitalization and the intravenous administration of anti-inflammatory and antiviral medications. Since some viruses demonstrate resistance to certain medications, an accurate identification of the responsible virus is essential to a good prognosis.

Individuals with bacterial-based brain inflammation may receive multi-faceted treatment. Generally a broad-spectrum, oral antibiotic is utilized until a definitive bacterial identification is made. Acute inflammation often requires hospitalization and intravenous antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications to eradicate infection and reduce swelling. Cases of severe swelling that have significantly impaired motor and cognitive functions may necessitate subsequent rehabilitation, such as physical and speech therapies.

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