Inflammation in the brain caused by an autoimmune response is treatable. But it can still create lasting health effects.

Autoimmune encephalitis (AIE) is a form of inflammation in the brain that’s triggered by your own immune system. It can be treated with medications to suppress your immune system if an accurate diagnosis is made and if treatment begins quickly.

This article will review the symptoms of AIE, how it’s treated, and what kind of recovery you can expect with this condition.

AIE isn’t really a single diagnosis, but a group of disorders triggered by an immune response.

These noninfectious disorders are the result of an immune reaction in which the body mistakenly attacks its own cells. This attack causes inflammation of the brain that can produce a variety of physical and neurological symptoms.

Although AIE is a known autoimmune condition, experts aren’t really sure what triggers this immune response in the first place.

There are many forms of encephalitis, the medical term for inflammation in the brain. It can be infectious in nature, but autoimmune varieties are about as common and share many of the same symptoms.

Specific symptoms can vary based on the cause of the inflammation, but usually include things like:

  • memory changes
  • headaches
  • vision changes
  • speech changes
  • seizures

Early symptoms

AIE usually appears suddenly, with the appearance of new symptoms like:

These symptoms usually make an appearance over a few weeks to 3 months, but early symptoms can also be vague and difficult to use for diagnosis.

Later symptoms

As AIE progresses, symptoms can become more severe and include:

Most severe symptoms

In the most severe cases, early symptoms of AIE can cause loss of consciousness or even coma.

Increased inflammation in the brain with AIE can affect many areas of the body and nervous system, leading to changes in blood pressure, heart rate and rhythm, and breathing patterns.

In the most severe cases, this could require treatments like mechanical ventilation.

Besides the autoimmune form of encephalitis, various infections can also lead to inflammation. This includes various viral, bacterial, or even fungal infections.

People who have weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of this kind of encephalitis.

Some of the most common infectious sources include:

Presentation-wise, different types of encephalitis can be difficult to tell apart, leaving about 60% of all encephalitis cases undiagnosed.

Diagnosis of AIE can be difficult because it shares symptoms with a variety of physical, neurological, and even psychological conditions.

The following tests may be done as a part of the diagnosis process:

The generic nature of AIE symptoms can also lead to misdiagnosis. One study found that as many as 70% of AIE cases may be misdiagnosed, with other possible diagnoses including things like:

Controlling the immune response by reducing antibodies is the primary treatment for AIE.

According to the Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance, people with AIE can do well with early treatment using medications like steroids and immunotherapies.

When aggressive treatments are used to calm the immune response and control inflammation, it’s possible to come out on the other side of AIE with only slight cognitive difficulties.

Without treatment, inflammation in the brain can cause a cascade of other problems requiring ongoing intensive medical treatment or supportive care.

Roughly 15% of people with this condition die from it, but many others survive with varying degrees of disability.

AIE is one form of inflammation in the brain that could lead to a rapid onset of symptoms like memory difficulties and personality changes. Left untreated, this inflammation can cause difficulties with physical functions, such as breathing.

AIE is often misdiagnosed because it shares symptoms with many other conditions, but full recovery depends on an accurate diagnosis and early treatment.