Brain Inflammation: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Brain inflammation is an indirect result of bacteria and infection in the body. Inflammation is one of your body’s ways of defending itself from harmful foreign substances like bacteria and viruses. For example, gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums as a result of plaque buildup. However, it is not the plaque itself that causes the inflammation, but your own body.

Inflammation causes the release of chemicals from white blood cells near the infected area. It is one of your body’s first means of defense against infections and even injuries. 

Inflammation itself is not a problem if it dissipates after the healing process has been completed. The problem occurs when it persists after the dangers have been overcome. When this happens, the inflammation essentially turns on the body itself. At that point, one should seek medical treatment.

Chronic brain inflammation is inflammation of the meninges (the protective outer layer of the brain) that persists after a bacteria or virus has been eradicated. 

Two diseases that commonly cause brain inflammation are:

  • Encephalitis – This is usually caused by a viral infection. Symptoms are usually mild and flu-like, although more severe cases can cause sensory disturbances, problems with movement, confusion, and even seizures.
  • Meningitis – This is usually caused by either a viral or bacterial infection (although it can also be caused by funguses and parasites). It derives its name from “meninges”, the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is an inflammation of these membranes. Symptoms include high fever, severe headaches, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, fatigue, seizures, and skin rashes.

If you notice any of the following symptoms persisting for long periods of time, the cause may be chronic brain inflammation.


Brain Fog

Brain Inflammation

We all have those days where we can’t focus, like our head is in the clouds. However, when you feel this way for prolonged periods of time with no signs of it letting up, it can be a symptom of brain inflammation. 

You may be in the middle of a discussion and forget a word that is usually very familiar to you, or find it difficult to string together a coherent set of ideas. Memory loss is another common sign; days seem to blend together, you forget to accomplish certain tasks, and your overall perception of time can become fuzzy. 

Mental activity can also increase the feeling of brain fog. Work and classes can become difficult or impossible to get through. This kind of mental exertion can even cause physical exhaustion. 


Brain Inflammation

Brain inflammation can drain your energy. Simple tasks can easily tire you out. There is also the phenomenon of exercise intolerance that many with brain inflammation experience. 

Exercise usually helps us achieve higher levels of energy. It makes us feel better. Even though a good hard workout leaves us tired, we generally experience a surplus of energy in the long run. 

With brain inflammation however, exercise can actually make you feel worse; extreme fatigue can set in and you may experience unusual pain. You may even experience flu-like symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain.

Headaches & Migraines

Brain Inflammation

If brain inflammation gets bad enough, it can cause serious pain. Although the brain itself has no pain receptors, inflammation and swelling build up pressure in the skull, causing painful and sometimes debilitating headaches. 


Brain Inflammation

Nausea can occur as a result of intense headaches and migraines, but can also be a direct result of encephalitis, which itself is usually caused by viral infections such as herpes simplex (a virus that causes 10% of annual encephalitis cases in the U.S.).

Neck Stiffness

Brain Inflammation

This can also be a result of brain swelling from inflammation. The meninges (the membranes surrounding the brain) are also located around the spinal cord. Inflammation of the brain can also cause inflammation and stiffness in the neck and back.

Visual Disturbances

Brain Inflammation

Symptoms include:

  • Loss of vision in one eye that develops over the course of hours or days. In some cases, permanent vision loss is possible.
  • Limited vision field (the loss of peripheral vision)
  • Pain (usually in the form of a dull ache) that gets worse with eye movement. 
  • Color blindness (colors become less vivid)
  • Flashing or flickering lights that increase with eye movement.

The eyes and the brain are connected in such a way that doctors can examine the eyes alone for indications of a brain tumor, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and even brain inflammation. If you are experiencing a combination of the above symptoms for a prolonged period of time, contact your doctor.

Health Issues Related To Brain Inflammation

  • Bronchitis and asthma
  • Frequent infections, sinusitis, or colds
  • Seasonal and/or environmental allergies
  • Prolonged or frequent exposure to environmental toxins such as heavy metals, pesticides, and industrial chemicals
  • Allergies or sensitivity to certain foods
  • Autoimmune disorders such as lupus, hypothyroid disease, and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Type II diabetes and/or obesity
  • Hepatitis
  • Recurring cold sores or canker sores
  • Eczema, acne, or skin rashes
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease or colitis
  • Spastic colon
  • Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease
  • Autism
  • Depression/anxiety

The Most Likely Cause Of Inflammation

Brain Inflammation

There is a lot of evidence for chronic inflammation of the brain (and body in general) to be the result of digestive imbalances.

An important function of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the removal of bacteria, toxins, and viruses from the food we consume before it can reach and negatively affect the body. Our modern diet, however, can present a serious challenge to the GI tract. 

Foods associated with chronic inflammation include:

  • Dairy products
  • Refined sugars
  • Refined and processed flours
  • Animal fats
  • Food allergens
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

Stress can also negatively affect the GI tract, which is one reason why stress and inflammation are linked

Treating Chronic Brain Inflammation – An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

  • Avoid refined foods with added sugars and refined carbohydrates. Think of these as “convenience foods” you would find at a gas station; basically, anything in a bag or box.
  • Avoid refined and processed flours; instead go for brown rice, bulgur wheat, and whole grains.
  • Avoid Saturated fat: full-fat dairy products like butter, cheese, and cream.
  • Avoid the following oils: mixed vegetable oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, sunflower and safflower oil.
  • Avoid vegetable shortening and margarine.
  • Get enough Omega-3 fatty acids. You can find these in the form of supplements. Food sources containing omega-4 fatty acids include sardines, herring, salmon, hemp seeds and flaxseeds, and omega-3 fortified eggs.
  • Eat plenty of cashews, almonds, walnuts, avocados, and butters made from nuts.
  • Eat cruciferous vegetables (vegetables in the cabbage-family).
  • Eat foods high in alkaline – green, leafy vegetables.
  • Get plenty of bioflavonoids and anti-inflammatory herbs. These can be very helpful in reducing inflammation. 
  • Take digestive enzymes
  • Drink anti-inflammatory powder drinks

By following the guidelines above, you will be well on your way to recovery from chronic brain inflammation.