Encephalopathy is a general term referring to any acute or chronic diffuse disturbance of brain function. Characteristically it is used to describe an altered level of consciousness, which may range from drowsiness to a failure of selective attention, to hypervigilance; with or without: disordered perception, memory (i.e., cognitive deficits); convulsions; headache; abnormal movements, such as tremor, myoclonus, or asterixis; and focal neurological deficits (less common). Clearly these features overlap with those of delirium.
As with terms, such as coma and stupor, it is probably better to give a description of the patients clinical state rather than use a term that is open to variable interpretation. Although the term is sometimes reserved for metabolic causes of diffuse brain dysfunction, this usage is not universal. Conditions which may be described as an encephalopathy include:
Metabolic disorders: hypoxia/ischemia, hypoglycemia; organ failure, electrolyte disturbances, hypertension
Brain inflammation/infection (e.g., encephalitis)
Miscellaneous conditions, e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, CreutzfeldtJakob disease.