Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. One cause of this inflammation may be white blood cells attacking the body's own tissues and cells. This autoimmune disorder is known as Rassmussen's encephalitis (RE).
RE is linked to seizures and brain damage.
Symptoms of RE may include:
- Severe partial seizures
- Loss of motor skills
- Loss of speech
- Paralysis on one side of the body
- Learning disabilities
- Physical disabilities
The partial seizures may progress to seizures that happen nearly all the time. This is a condition known as epilepsia partialis continua (EPC).
Causes and Risk Factors
The cause of RE is unknown. The condition is linked to an autoimmune response. Some researchers think this response may be triggered by an infection such as the flu or measles.
The condition most commonly affects children between the ages of 2 and 10 years old.
Routine lab tests may be used to look for signs of an infection. These tests may also look at how the body is functioning and may include:
- A complete blood count (CBC) to provide the doctor with information about infection, unusual electrolyte levels (such as magnesium, potassium and calcium), kidney or liver function or genetic conditions.
- A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to help diagnose spinal meningitis and encephalitis.
If seizures are present, an electroencephalogram (EEG) is the most useful tool for understanding the seizures. This test records electrical activity in the brain. An EEG can record unusual electrical activity patterns. Different types of seizures can be identified with these patterns.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans may also be used. The scans can show scar tissue, tumors or structural problems in the brain.
Treatment will focus on managing symptoms and supporting the patient.
Treatment may include:
- Anti-seizure or anti-inflammatory drugs
- Lifestyle changes or support
Anti-seizure medications can help control seizures in some cases. However, these medications are not helpful for most patients with RE. Some research suggests medications that reduce inflammation may help.
Surgery may be the only option to stop seizures and brain damage.
When the patient has experienced brain damage, lifestyle changes and other supportive services may be needed, including:
- Breathing assistance
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
Cedars-Sinai has a range of comprehensive treatment options.