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Encephalitis - Complications of encephalitis

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Although some people will make a good recovery after having encephalitis, the condition can cause significant complications and can be fatal.

The chances of successful treatment are much better if the condition is diagnosed and treated quickly. 

However, even with treatment it can be fatal. About 20% of people treated for encephalitis caused by the herpes simplex virus - one of the most common but serious forms of the condition - will die.

Overall, about 10% of encephalitis cases are fatal. In some cases, people survive with one or more long-term complications due to damage to the brain.
 
The most common complications include:

  • memory problems, which affect 70% of people with complications
  • personality and behavioural changes, which occur in just under half of all people
  • aphasia - speech and language problems that occur in around one in three people
  • epilepsy, which occurs in one in four affected adults and one in two affected children
  • changes in emotions, such as anxiety and anger, and mood swings 
  • problems with attention, concentrating, planning and problem solving
  • physical and motor difficulties
  • low mood and a sense of feeling different
  • fatigue (extreme tiredness)

Individual care plans

Due to these complications, specialised services are often needed during recovery, including from:

  • a neuropsychologist - a specialist in brain injury and cognitive rehabilitation
  • an occupational therapist - they can identify problem areas in a person's everyday life and help work out practical solutions
  • physiotherapist - a therapist who uses physical methods, such as massage, manipulation and exercise
  • a speech and language therapist - they use specialist techniques to improve all aspects of communication

Before being discharged from hospital, your health and social care needs will be fully assessed and an individual care plan drawn up to meet those needs. 

If you are the primary carer of someone recovering from encephalitis, such as their spouse or parent, you should be invited to take part in discussions about the care plan, and your own circumstances and requirements should be taken into account. You should also be given information about support services available in your local community.

The Care and support section of this website provides lots of useful information and advice about caring for someone. In particular, you may find the New to caring section useful.

Caring for someone with emotional and behavioural problems can be stressful, so it is important you do not neglect your own mental and physical wellbeing. See Carer wellbeing for more information and advice.

Seeking further help

Seek additional help if you are experiencing problems after having encephalitis. Many healthcare professionals are unaware of the problems following encephalitis, and it can sometimes be a struggle to find the right help for you.

The Encephalitis Society can provide you with appropriate sources of information and recommend the right professionals to help you in your situation. It can be contacted on 01653 699 599.  

Medical Review: November 29, 2012
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