Encephalitis : Diagnosis

The symptoms of encephalitis can have a number of possible causes, so several tests may be needed to diagnose it.

Brain scans

A scan of the brain can help show whether you have encephalitis or another problem such as a stroke, brain tumour or brain aneurysm (a swelling in an artery).

The 2 main types of scan used are:

Lumbar puncture

lumbar puncture is a procedure to remove some fluid from around the spinal cord (the nerves running up the spine) so it can be checked for signs of encephalitis.

For the procedure:

  • you lie on one side and bring your knees up towards your chin
  • local anaesthetic is used to numb your lower back
  • a needle is inserted into the lower part of your spine and a sample of fluid is removed

The sample will be checked for signs of infection or a problem with your immune system, which are the main causes of encephalitis.

Other tests

Other tests may include:

  • an electroencephalogram (EEG) – where small electrodes are placed on your scalp, which pick up the electrical signals from your brain and show abnormal brain activity
  • tests of your blood, urine or other bodily fluids to check for an infection