Autoimmune encephalitis care

A child at any age can have an autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the nervous system. Autoimmune diseases, including autoimmune encephalitis, can occur following an infection. They also can be related to a child having a systemic autoimmune disease or a dysfunctional immune system, or no clear health issues.

Norton Children’s Neuroscience Institute’s Michael L. Sweeney, M.D., completed his fellowship training in autoimmune neurology at the University of Utah and is a part of the Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance network of physicians dedicated to the treatment of this disease.

Autoimmune encephalitis

Encephalitis is a disease characterized by inflammation within the brain. Depending on the parts of the brain affected, symptoms can vary widely. These symptoms may include:

  • Seizures
  • Behavior or personality changes
  • Abnormal movements
  • Difficulty maintaining balance
  • Trouble thinking or speaking
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Difficulty sleeping

Encephalitis has several specific names relating to the circumstances under which it arises. When encephalitis occurs without a clear reason, it is called autoimmune encephalitis. Post-infectious encephalitis occurs following an infection. If encephalitis occurs in the setting of a tumor or cancer, it is called paraneoplastic encephalitis.

Anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis is the most common form of autoimmune encephalitis in children. It is caused by the presence of antibodies in a specific part of the nerve cells in the brain, called NMDA-receptors. In children, this form of encephalitis is rarely associated with a tumor called an ovarian teratoma.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing autoimmune encephalitis can be challenging. Our team’s first step is to do a thorough medical workup of your child. We will document his or her complete medical history and perform tests, including a neurologic examination, imaging of the brain (MRI), electroencephalography (EEG), and spinal fluid analysis.

Our team typically will do blood testing to evaluate your child for signs of inflammation and autoimmune disorders. We also may test for specific antibodies in the blood and spinal fluid, which can be helpful in making a diagnosis. The presence of a specific antibody is not necessary to make a diagnosis. We also may screen for an underlying tumor, which typically involves whole-body imaging.

Treatment

Treatment in the hospital is aimed at reducing the amount of inflammation within your child’s brain. Our team may use high doses of steroids, intravenous immunoglobulin and plasmapheresis. If needed, your child also may receive additional immunotherapies, such as rituximab or cyclophosphamide.

Our team may use medications to treat symptoms caused by encephalitis. If your child has seizures, we may prescribe antiepileptic medications. For mood changes, we may prescribe antipsychotic and antidepressant medications.

Long-term follow-up with our team is important to address possible consequences of encephalitis such as seizures, mood and personality changes, and learning problems.

Neuroscience

Contact Us

Connect to the Norton Children’s Hospital Neurology team
(502) 588-3650

Connect with Norton Children’s Neurosurgery team
(502) 583-1697

Families can meet goals this summer with wellness workshops

Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness, with support from Kohl’s Cares, offers wellness workshops and classes for the whole family throughout the year. Our wellness specialists team up with community organizations like Healthy House and Shively […]

Read Full Story

When should you wash your hands?

Washing your hands is the easiest way to keep yourself and others from getting sick. Think of it as a do-it-yourself vaccine: Hand hygiene helps prevent diarrhea, strep throat, the flu and many other illnesses […]

Read Full Story

School and Sports Physicals on Your Schedule

Many elementary, middle and high school students start new sports seasons when they return to school in August. For most, an annual exam, known as a “sports physical,” must be completed before participating in sports. […]

Read Full Story

Louisville second-grader heads to U.S. Capitol to advocate for kids’ health

Hey there! My name is Eleanor and I’m 8 years old. I love drawing and art. I also really like to play with Legos with my little sister. I’m in the second grade, and the […]

Read Full Story

Why go to a pediatric emergency department for your child’s care?

Your child has an accident and your pediatrician’s office is closed; or maybe you’re traveling. When your child needs emergency care, it’s tempting to go to the closest hospital or immediate care center so he […]

Read Full Story

Search our entire site.