Dr. David Benavides with a patient

Encephalitis is a disease of brain inflammation, which often leads to changes in personality and memory function, seizures and symptoms of central nervous system dysfunction.

Encephalitis is a complex disease and can form because of infectious and non-infectious causes. It affects approximately 5-10 in 100,000 people each year.

In most cases, there is no infectious cause identified. Many cases of encephalitis involve brain inflammation caused by the immune system, leading to an autoimmune encephalitis designation. The treatments and therapies for autoimmune encephalitis vary from other neurological syndromes.

The University of Maryland Medical Center’s specialists treat patients diagnosed with autoimmune encephalitis in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

Dr. David Benavides provides outpatient consultations and management of patients with this condition at the Maryland Center for Multiple Sclerosis

Dr. Benavides also oversees active encephalitis research. Learn more about a clinical trial for the treatment of autoimmune encephalitis. 

Diagnosing Encephalitis

Diagnostic testing for autoimmune encephalitis often involves magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), electroencephalogram (EEG), blood tests and lumbar puncture for cerebrospinal fluid testing. Recent studies support comprehensive cancer screening in select groups, as well as positron emission tomography (PET) scan for brain metabolism.

A comprehensive history and complete neurological examination are also an important part of the evaluation to determine if a patient has autoimmune encephalitis.

Biomarkers for Encephalitis

Your doctor will request early testing for infectious causes of encephalitis to determine how to best manage the disease. Many autoantibody biomarkers in blood or cerebrospinal fluid have emerged as helpful in the evaluation of autoimmune encephalitis. Specialists at University of Maryland Center for Multiple Sclerosis Treatment and Research are familiar with interpreting testing to diagnose and manage autoimmune encephalitis.

Diagnostic Criteria exist for:

  • Autoimmune Encephalitis
  • Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis
  • Autoimmune Limbic Encephalitis
  • Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis
  • Bickerstaff’s Brainstem Encephalitis
  • Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy
  • Autoantibody-negative, but probable Autoimmune Encephalitis

Treating Encephalitis

The most effective treatment for encephalitis is a selection of medications that reduce disease activity and manage symptoms.

For acute encephalitis, there are several options for treatment including antimicrobials and high dose intravenous (IV) steroids, as well as blood and plasma transfusions.

For maintenance therapy in autoimmune encephalitis, treatment options include oral steroids, blood transfusions and non-steroid medications designed to suppress the immune system.

Prognosis for Encephalitis Patients

Encephalitis can be caused by a wide variety of conditions where prognosis is based largely on an underlying condition. Early recognition of the disease and appropriate treatment to reduce neurological disability can possibly lead to favorable outcomes.