Encephalopathy (cont.)

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What causes encephalopathy?

The causes of encephalopathy are both numerous and varied.

Some examples of causes of encephalopathy include:

  • infectious (bacteria, viruses, parasites, or prions),
  • anoxic (lack of oxygen to the brain, including traumatic causes),
  • alcoholic (alcohol toxicity),
  • hepatic (for example, liver failure or liver cancer),
  • uremic (renal or kidney failure),
  • metabolic diseases (hyper- or hypocalcemia, hypo- or hypernatremia, or hypo- or hyperglycemic),
  • brain tumors,
  • many types of toxic chemicals (mercury, lead, or ammonia),
  • alterations in pressure within the brain (often from bleeding, tumors, or abscesses), and
  • poor nutrition (inadequate vitamin B1 intake or alcohol withdrawal).

These examples do not cover all of the potential causes of encephalopathy but are listed to demonstrate the wide range of causes.

Although numerous causes of encephalopathy are known, the majority of cases arise from several major categories (some examples in parentheses):

  1. infection (HIV, Neisseria meningitides, herpes, and hepatitis B and hepatitis C),
  2. liver damage (alcohol and toxins),
  3. brain anoxia or brain cell destruction (including trauma), and
  4. kidney failure (uremic).

Some drugs may cause encephalopathy; for example, posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES) may occur due to the use of drugs like tacrolimus and cyclosporine. This syndrome manifests with symptoms of headache, confusion, and seizures.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/9/2012

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