Contributors: Mariah Rossi and Dr. Emran

Dr. Emran is joined by Sarah, one of his nurses, to talk about her sister’s experience with Encephalopathy.

Sarah recalls that when her sister was two years old, she developed a high-grade fever and started having a seizure. Sarah’s parents rushed her to the hospital where she was submerged under cold water to lower her body temperature and given medications. However, by that point, her sister had suffered brain damage.

Sarah’s sister had a Febrile Seizure. These are very common in children and occur when the body’s temperature is high enough to trigger metabolic changes. These changes then produce toxins that cause the muscle to spasm and lead to the seizure. Encephalopathy occurs when the temperature is prolonged and the bacteria or the viral infection spreads to the brain.

Her sister lost some motor function and speech ability but saw specialists for rehabilitation. When her sister saw a Neurologist, she was given a CAT Scan and  MRI to see what areas of the brain were damaged. An EEG measures brain waves painlessly through small wires and electrodes on the head. People with irregular brain waves suffer from seizures and can be diagnosed with Epilepsy. Luckily, in this case, she was a child at the time of the incident and still had the ability to regrow neurons or remodel the brain.

Seizures are caused by electrical activity in the brain when normal pathways are being disrupted. This causes electrical activity to stimulate muscles. One type of seizure is a Tonic-Clonic Seizure where muscles are moving uncontrolled and rapidly. Another is called an Absence Seizures and a person’s face may go blank and unresponsive. Another is a Petit Mal Seizures which are milder muscle-based seizures. Her sister was on medication to control the seizures but is no longer on seizure medication. Although it took 6 or 7 years, her seizures eventually stopped

She also saw a speech therapist. She learned how to speak and how to swallow. This is because the muscles in the mouth that control speech also control swallowing. Learning how to control these muscles prevents choking, aspiration, and pneumonia. She also saw physical and occupational therapists. Physical therapists help with the range of motion, while occupational therapists help with specific skills.

After extensive therapy, her sister was enrolled in public school and special education. She continued to improve and graduated from High School.

While Encephalopathy can be devastating, there are ways that people can improve.

Sarah wonders what “red flags” parents should be looking for when it comes to Encephalopathy. Dr. Emran suggests that temperatures should be taken seriously and to use over the counter medicine like Tylenol or Motrin to lessen the fever.

Dr. Emran also encourages vaccinations for all children and adults, especially the Flu Vaccine and the Meningitis Vaccine. This lowers the risk of Encephalopathy occurring. For those who are skeptical of vaccines, he suggests having a candid conversation with your doctor to be fully informed.

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