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Autoimmune Encephalitis

What is Autoimmune Encephalitis?

Autoimmune encephalitis is inflammation of the brain that occurs when the brain is attacked by the body’s immune system. This inflammation can impair brain function and, in severe cases, be life threatening.

The cause of the faulty immune system response may be the result of a virus infecting the brain or it may be a response to an infection somewhere else in the body. However, in most cases the exact cause is unknown.

Symptoms of Autoimmune Encephalitis

Encephalitis may cause mild flu-like symptoms, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Aches in muscles or joints
  • Fatigue

More severe cases of encephalitis may cause the following symptoms:

  • Sudden, severe dementia
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Partial paralysis in the arms and legs
  • Muscle weakness
  • Lack of voluntary coordination (ataxia)
  • Personality changes
  • Problems with speech or hearing
  • Double vision
  • Loss of consciousness

Contact a medical professional if you are experiencing symptoms of autoimmune encephalitis. Severe cases require immediate medical attention.

Treatments for Autoimmune Encephalitis

Treatment options for autoimmune encephalitis include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as corticosteroids
  • Plasmapheresis (plasma exchange)
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg)
  • Immunosuppressant drugs

Additional Information

How common is autoimmune encephalitis?

Autoimmune encephalitis is a rare condition. Several thousand cases of encephalitis are reported each year, but most of these are caused by a virus directly infecting the brain rather than the brain being attacked by a person’s own immune system.

Who gets autoimmune encephalitis?

Autoimmune encephalitis can occur in people of all ages and in both genders, but it has most frequently been diagnosed in young women.

How is autoimmune encephalitis diagnosed?

Your doctor may use the following tests to diagnose autoimmune encephalitis:

  • MRI scan
  • Electroencephalography (EEG)
  • Blood tests

Information and Resources about Autoimmune Encephalitis:

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke | Meningitis and Encephalitis Information Page

Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance

Medically Reviewed by Aimee Borazanci, MD on January 10, 2020