Lupus cerebritis is a symptom of lupus in which brain tissue becomes inflamed, often as a result of damage to blood vessels. Since lupus causes the immune system to deteriorate, cerebritis can be actually be caused by the disease itself. It can also be caused by an infection, either in the brain or blood, which results in swelling of the brain. These infections can reach the brain as a result of trauma or through the sinuses. More than half of all lupus sufferers develop cerebritis to some degree, though it can be difficult to diagnose.
Lupus is characterized by chronic joint and tissue inflammation and is most common among young women under the age of 40. Manifestations of lupus include joint pain similar to that of arthritis, and chronic debilitating fatigue. Skin abrasions are also a common symptom, as is a butterfly shaped rash that usually appears on the face. Other symptoms include dizziness, chest pain and kidney inflammation. The strain of dealing with this condition can also greatly affect the state of mind, making depression common in lupus sufferers.
When lupus cerebritis develops, it can be mild or very severe and may include headaches, dementia and cerebellar ataxia, which leaves the body unable to control movements on one side. Other symptoms can include seizures, very high blood pressure and stroke. In severe cases, these symptoms can become life-threatening, and the patient should be seen by a physician on a regular basis to keep the symptoms under control. The neurological damage caused by cerebritis can be fatal.
Extensive testing is often necessary to make an accurate diagnosis, because signs of lupus cerebritis can mimic other serious conditions. Brain inflammation and swelling can also be caused by bacterial meningitis and certain types of infections. While these can be cured with antibiotics and other medications, there is no cure for lupus.
It is necessary to find the exact cause of a lupus cerebritis flare up before treatment can begin. It may be caused in part by changes in the autoimmune system in which antibodies improperly react to brain tissue and obstruct neurons, making them unable to respond. Immune complexes can also trigger an inflammatory reaction in the body, causing the blood vessels to become inflamed.
Treatments for lupus cerebritis depend on several factors, including the age and health of the patient. A milder lupus cerebritis flare up may be treated with steroids or antibiotics, while blood thinners may be used to treat possible blood clots in the brain. In more severe cases, surgery may be necessary to alleviate brain abscesses.