Encephalopathy

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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Head injury

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)

Getting your bell rung was once a badge of honor in sports. The ability to shake it off and not miss a play was accepted and routine. But it had been known for almost a hundred years that repeated hits to the head had long-term consequences and “dementia pugilista” was the term used for a punch drunk old fighter who had been hit in the head one too many times. The realization was slow in coming that the same injury to the brain could occur in football players, and that the most popular sport in the country could be a potential cause of psychiatric disturbances and early dementia.

A new term was born: Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) describes a gradual degeneration in brain function due to repeated head injuries that causes both concussions with symptoms and concussions that are asymptomatic (do not cause symptoms). Once the initial symptoms of concussion have faded, months and years later, new symptoms occur. CTE symptoms start slowly and creep up on the patient. Initially, there may be concentration and memory problems with episodes of disorientation and confusion, dizziness, and headache. It is as if the concussion symptoms were starting to return even without a new head injury.

Encephalopathy facts

  • Encephalopathy is a general term that means brain disease, damage, or malfunction.
  • The major symptom of encephalopathy is an altered mental state.
  • The causes of encephalopathy are numerous and varied; they include infections, anoxia, metabolic problems, toxins, drugs, physiologic changes, trauma, and other causes.
  • Encephalopathy is often considered a complication of a primary problem such as alcoholic cirrhosis, kidney failure, or anoxia.
  • Early treatment of many types of encephalopathy can eliminate, reduce, or halt the symptoms of encephalopathy.
  • Often, cases of encephalopathy can be prevented by avoiding the many primary causes.

Encephalopathy definition and overview

Encephalopathy is a term that means brain disease, damage, or malfunction. Encephalopathy can present a very broad spectrum of symptoms that range from mild, such as some memory loss or subtle personality changes, to severe, such as dementia, seizures, coma, or death. In general, encephalopathy is manifested by an altered mental state that is sometimes accompanied by physical manifestations (for example, poor coordination of limb movements).

The term encephalopathy, in most cases, is preceded by various terms that describe the reason, cause, or special conditions of the patient that leads to brain malfunction. For example, anoxic encephalopathy means brain damage due to lack of oxygen, and hepatic encephalopathy means brain malfunction due to liver disease. Additionally, some other terms either describe body conditions or syndromes that lead to a specific set of brain malfunctions. Examples of these are metabolic encephalopathy and Wernicke's encephalopathy (Wernicke's syndrome). There are over 150 different terms that modify or precede "encephalopathy" in the medical literature; the purpose of this article is to introduce the reader to the main categories of conditions that fall under the broad term of encephalopathy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/29/2015

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