What is Limbic Encephalopathy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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Limbic encephalopathy is a disorder involving the limbic system, an area of the brain responsible for behavior, memory storage and retrieval, and emotion. There can be a number of causes of limbic encephalopathy and the condition may onset gradually or in acute form. Treatment options vary, depending on the underlying cause, and usually require consultation with a neurologist, a medical specialist focusing in treatment of diseases of the brain and nervous system.

One reason for a patient to develop limbic encephalopathy is an infection or inflammation. These are rare in the brain, as the blood-brain barrier is designed to limit the spread of disease, but they can happen and may be severe in nature. Patients can also experience damage to tissues in the limbic system caused by strokes, malignant growths, and lesions associated with degenerative brain disease. Another potential cause of limbic encephalopathy is brain damage caused by trauma, such as pressure on the brain as a result of a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid.


Patients with this condition will start to experience memory lapses, particularly with long term memory. Their behavior can change and they may be emotional or agitated. Seizures may be seen in some cases. Limbic encephalopathy with a gradual onset may be subtle when it starts, becoming more severe over time as the patient's condition worsens. In acute cases, it occurs very rapidly and may be accompanied with other signs of trauma, such as trouble controlling the limbs, fatigue, and vision problems.

Treatment usually starts with a thorough examination and medical imaging to see what is happening inside the brain. Medications may be useful for management of symptoms, as well as primary causes like infections. Surgery can also be an option for removal of tumors or placement of drains to relieve pressure on the brain. Supportive care can also be helpful for patients with limbic encephalopathy. This can include therapy to work on managing and expressing emotions.

The prognosis for the patient depends on the cause and how quickly the problem is identified. A neurologist may need to treat a patient for several days before providing an estimate on recovery, as insults to the brain can be unpredictable. A patient with an initially poor presentation may make a complete recovery, while a patient who appears fairly stable at first can decompensate, rapidly becoming more sick over time. Follow-up care is usually needed to make sure the patient is recovering and check for complications.


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