October 1, 2019 by Peter B. Laird
“Brain on Fire” Condition Explained: What’s Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis? (Video)
Awareness about anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis increased earlier this year when Netflix aired Brain on Fire, a movie that tells the real-life story of one young woman’s experience with the condition.
“Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis is a condition in which the immune system essentially attacks the brain,” said Felipe De Los Rios, M.D., medical director of the stroke program at Baptist Health Neuroscience Center. “It’s not very common, but is one of the most common causes of autoimmune encephalitis.”
(VIDEO: The Baptist Health News Team hears from Felipe De Los Rios, M.D., medical director of the stroke program at Baptist Health Neuroscience Center, about anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Video by Dylan Kyle)
Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain, usually caused by a virus. But there are some types of encephalitis that are an autoimmune condition, and anti-NMDA encephalitis is one of them.
Antibodies are parts of the immune system that work to protect the body against infection and illness. When they don’t work correctly, they react with proteins in the body, causing an autoimmune disease. When this reaction is against proteins in the brain it’s called autoimmune encephalitis.
As depicted in the movie, anti-NMDAR encephalitis causes confusion, memory loss and seizures that are often followed by alteration of consciousness and changes in blood pressure, heart rate and temperature, Dr. De Los Rios says.
The movie’s graphic portrayal of these symptoms – hallucinations, delusions, aggressiveness – can startle viewers, but is accurate.
“Symptoms of anti-NDMA receptor encephalitis that are similar to those that accompany certain psychotic disorders, like schizophrenia and bipolar episodes, have led to misdiagnoses in the past,” Dr. De Los Rios said. “But with the right diagnosis, this neurological condition is not as uncommon as people may think. Thanks to advances in how we can diagnose and treat it, we’re helping a lot more patients who may have been left untreated in the past.”
The Baptist Health South Florida News Team asked Dr. De Los Rios to explain this complicated illness. Watch the video now.