Diagnoses & Conditions

Autoimmune Encephalitis (AE)

Understanding AE

Autoimmune encephalitis (AE) refers to a group of conditions that occur when the body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy brain cells, leading to inflammation of the brain. AE generally occurs sporadically, in individuals with no family history of the condition. Some types of AE are typically triggered by an infection.

Symptoms of AE

People with autoimmune encephalitis (AE) may have various neurologic and/or psychiatric symptoms. Neurologic symptoms may include impaired memory and cognition, abnormal movements, seizures, and/or problems with balance, speech, or vision. Psychiatric symptoms may include psychosis, aggression, inappropriate sexual behaviors, panic attacks, compulsive behaviors, euphoria or fear. Symptoms may fluctuate, but often progress over days to a few weeks. Symptoms can progress to loss of consciousness or even coma.

Diagnosing AE

To diagnose autoimmune encephalitis (AE), the healthcare provider may order tests, perform a medical exam and obtain medical history, including vaccinations and recent infections. Tests may include neuroimaging (such as a brain magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] or computerized tomography [CT] scan), lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to check for signs of infection in the brain or spinal cord, electroencephalogram (EEG) to look for seizures or specific patterns of electrical activity in the brain, and tests to identify infection or antibodies associated with AE.

Treating AE

The key to surviving autoimmune encephalitis (AE) is early detection and effective treatment of the underlying cause. AE patients might require a stay in a hospital intensive care unit so health care providers can watch for seizures, brain swelling, respiratory failure or heart rhythm changes. AE treatment depends on the underlying cause and symptoms and may include anti-infective medications to fight viral or bacterial infections, medications to control seizures, and immunotherapy. Immunotherapy options include plasmapheresis, immune globulin therapy administered into the blood stream intravenously (IVIG), corticosteroids, or immunosuppressive drugs. Plasmapheresis (also known as apheresis, plasma exchange, or “plex”) is a medical procedure where a device separates whole blood into the cellular components and plasma. The plasma is then discarded and replaced with a colloid fluid, combined back with the cellular components, and returned to the same patient.


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