What is Encephalitis lethargica?

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Jan 24, 2013

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Quick Bites

  • Symptoms include high fever, vision problems and beahvioural issues.
  • Occurs due to inflammation confined to a small region in the brain.
  • It may lead to Postencephalitic Parkinson's disease.
  • Some patients were given steroids, they did show some improvement.

Encephalitis lethargica is a disease characterised by high fever, headache, double vision, delayed physical and mental response, and lethargy. Patients may also experience abnormal eye movements, upper body weakness, muscular pains, tremors, neck rigidity, and behavioral changes including psychosis. Postencephalitic Parkinson's disease may develop after a bout of encephalitis-sometimes as long as a year after the illness.


encephalitis lethargica


The cause of encephalitis lethargica is unknown. An epidemic of encephalitis lethargica (between 1917 to 1928) hit the world, but there hasn’t been any case of recurrence ever since.



The health experts were unable to decipher encephalitis lethargica initially. It is a disorder in which one experience vision problems such as double vision (diplopia), deep somnolence and sometimes mild fever. The body presented all the signs of slumber. The autopsies of those who suffered from the disease suggest that they had suffered from an inflammation confined to a small region at the base of the brain.

In the second stage of the condition, there is a general loss of concentration and interest in anything. There was a vague sensation and people felt completely different from what they were once. It resembled chronic fatigue syndrome. In adolescents and children, the second stage was of the pathologic changes o that approached the psychopathic. Children irritated with their clinginess, were incessantly restless and couldn’t concentrate.



There is not much evidence to support any treatment approach for encephalitis lethargic. In the early stages, health experts tried patient stabilization, which was very difficult. Some patients were given steroids, they did show some improvement.

In the cases where the disease became progressive, there was an evidence of brain damage similar to Parkinson's disease. For Parkinson’s, the drugs such as Levodopa (L-DOPA) and other anti-parkinson drugs can be help the patients. Unfortunately, the patients who were given L-DOPA in the 1960s, there was a little improvement at first but that was short lived.

Health experts claim that the course of encephalitis lethargica varies depending upon complications or accompanying disorders. The prescription drug Zolpidem, commonly used as a sleeping pill, has been reported to be successful at treating encephalitis lethargica.



Read more article on Understand Encephalitis Lethargica.



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