Learning About Metabolic Encephalopathy

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What is metabolic encephalopathy?

Metabolic encephalopathy is a problem in the brain. It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the blood. The imbalance is caused by an illness or organs that are not working as well as they should. It is not caused by a head injury. When the imbalance affects the brain, it can lead to personality changes. It can also make it harder to think clearly and remember things.

The problems may only last a short time if you get treatment right away. But this depends on the cause. If the imbalance has been building up because you've been sick for a long time, the mental changes may be more severe. They may also last longer.

What happens when you have this problem?

When things are working right, your body has many ways to keep the chemicals in your blood in balance. For example, your liver and kidneys remove waste from your blood. The kidneys also help keep fluids and sodium in balance. And your pancreas makes insulin. It is a hormone that helps control the amount of sugar in your blood.

But the chemicals in your blood can get out of balance and damage parts of your body because of a medical problem. This may be kidney or liver failure. Or it could be diabetes that isn't controlled well. When the imbalance affects the brain, normal thinking and behavior can change.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Confusion.
  • Problems with thinking and remembering.
  • Being grouchy and depressed.
  • Feeling drowsy.
  • Not being able to sleep.
  • Passing out (fainting) now and then.

How is it treated?

The doctor will try to find the illness that's causing the problem. The doctor may ask questions about your past health.

The doctor will also do tests to find what is causing the chemical imbalance and to see how severe it is.

The doctor may treat the organ system that's causing the problem. For example, if it's a kidney problem, you may have treatment to help your kidneys work better. If you have an infection, you may need antibiotics. If the doctor can't treat the cause of the problem, the doctor will treat the symptoms.

The doctor will carefully watch your blood chemicals to make sure that your treatment is being done safely.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.