The newsletter of the Memory Disorders Project at Rutgers University

Encephalitis Definition

Encephalitis is the medical term for an inflammation of the brain, derived from the Greek words enkephalos (brain) and itis (inflammation).

Inflammation causes swelling, and as brain tissues press against their limited confines in the skull, those tissues can be damaged.

Causes of Encephalitis

Encephalitis is often caused by a virus spreading into the brain; the most common such cause is herpes simplex encephalitis. Viruses such as influenza (flu), measles, chickenpox, smallpox, and syphilis can all cause encephalitis.

Encephalitis can also be caused by a head wound that penetrates to the brain and becomes infected, or by infection elsewhere that gets into the bloodstream and is carried to the brain.

HIV- the virus leading to AIDS - can also weaken the immune system, allowing various other infections to spread into the brain.

Encephalitis Symptoms

Symptoms can range from cold-like headache, fever and dizziness to more serious motor dysfunction, paralysis and coma.

If the underlying cause is treated promptly, outlook for recovery is generally good; left untreated, encephalitis can cause irreparable brain damage or even death.


by Catherine E. Myers. Copyright © 2006 Memory Loss and the Brain