Infections are one of the primary causes of organic brain syndrome. They can be caused by a number of factors, and can result in damage ranging from mild to severe, with consequences that can sometimes be treated and which at other times are permanent and irreversible.
Many sudden onset and chronic infections can lead to brain damage. One of the most dangerous is septicemia, the presence of bacteria in the blood. It is often associated with other infections in the body, including those of the lungs, abdomen, and urinary tract. It can also be associated with infections of the central nervous system (meningitis), the heart (endocarditis), and the bones (myelitis).
Septicemia’s onset is swift and violent, often beginning with rapid breathing, spiking fevers, and chills. Quickly, these symptoms progress to shock with fever, decreased body temperature, sudden drop in blood pressure, confusion, and blood clotting problems that cause red spots on the skin. Urine output may decrease or cease altogether. The seriousness of this situation cannot be overstated.
In order to verify that septicemia is occurring, doctors may get blood samples, take blood gases, analyze the patient’s urine, and take cultures of any existing skin lesions. Of vital importance is stabilizing the patient’s condition as soon as possible. Determining the underlying bacterial cause of the septicemia is the first step. Fluids and oxygen are often administered, as are plasma and antibiotics.
Bacterial meningitis, which can lead to septicemia, can bring about permanent brain damage. Children under five or who have not completed a course of vaccine against meningitis, as well as young adults and senior citizens are at higher risk of acquiring this disease. The symptoms include high fever, severe headache, vomiting, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, confusion, and sometimes seizures. The faster medical attention is sought, the better are the patient’s chances of avoiding permanent brain damage. Diagnosis of meningitis is done through administration of tests such as a spinal tap, a CT scan of the brain, a throat culture, and a polymerase chain reaction test to identify the bacteria.
If a patient does not receive adequate treatment in a timely manner, he or she is more likely to sustain permanent brain damage as a result of meningitis. Long term symptoms include seizures, deafness, blindness, neurological damage, speech, behavioral or learning problems, and paralysis. Once the damage has been done, a multi-disciplinary team of therapists, doctors and social workers will assist the patient and his or her family in understanding what has happened and learning the individualized techniques that will enable the patient to function as independently as possible, while compensating for any permanent losses in functioning.
Viral infections can also do great harm to the brain through an inflammatory condition called encephalitis, which is a swelling or irritation of the brain. Contact with viruses through contaminated foods, airborne droplets, and insect bites are the main causes. Common viruses that can cause this condition are cytomegalovirus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus, Epstein-Barr, herpes simplex infection, measles, mumps, rabies, rubella, chicken pox or shingles, and West Nile virus. Although it is usually caused by a virus, encephalitis can also result from bacterial diseases such as syphilis, lime disease, and tuberculosis. Symptoms include clumsiness/unsteady gait, drowsiness, confusion, irritability, fever, headache, light sensitivity, vomiting, weakness, lack of interest or response, seizures, paralysis, change in mental state, impaired judgment, and memory loss
In order to diagnose encephalitis, doctors administer a brain MRI, head CT, electroencephalogram, lumbar puncture, CSF examination and other measures. The focus of treatment is on getting rid of the infection and relieving the symptoms. Ultimately, therapists and consultants might be called in if permanent brain damage has occurred in order to help the patient and family cope with the changes to behavior and functioning that may have resulted.