Encephalopathy: Disease, damage, or malfunction of the brain. In general, encephalopathy is manifested by an altered mental state that is sometimes accompanied by physical changes. Although numerous causes of encephalopathy are known, the majority of cases arise from infection, liver damage, anoxia, or kidney failure. The term encephalopathy is very broad and, 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. Depending upon the cause and severity of the condition, symptoms may range from mild alterations in mental status to severe and potentially fatal manifestations such as dementia, seizures, and coma.
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Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2016