Encephalitis vs. encephalopathy

Encephalitis and encephalopathy are acute brain conditions which may lead to acquired brain injury or death. The similarity between these words can be traced back to the ancient Greek ‘encephalo’ which means ‘pertaining to the brain’. However, there are some key differences.

Encephalitis is an inflammation or swelling of the brain, usually caused by viral infection or an autoimmune disorder. It can lead to symptoms such as fever, headache, confusion, seizures, and even coma. Click here to view our ‘What is encephalitis?’ animation.

Encephalopathy is a broader term that refers to a generalised dysfunction of the brain, which can be caused by a range of factors like liver or kidney failure, traumatic brain injury or metabolic disturbances.

Unlike encephalitis, encephalopathy is not primarily an inflammatory condition, but rather a functional impairment of the brain. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, memory problems, and altered consciousness.

Overall, while both conditions can lead to severe complications if left untreated, encephalitis poses a more immediate risk whereas encephalopathy may have a slower progression but still cause significant cognitive impairment.


Encephalopathy = altered consciousness lasting for more than 24 hours, including lethargy, irritability or a change in personality or behaviour.

Encephalitis = encephalopathy AND evidence of central nervous system (CNS) inflammation, demonstrated by symptoms like fever and seizures.

Page Created: 22 March 2024
Last Modified: 22 March 2024
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