Slight differences can help distinguish between two similar pediatric brain conditions

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Slight differences in clinical features can help physicians distinguish between two rare but similar forms of autoimmune brain inflammation in children, a new study by UT Southwestern scientists suggests. The findings, published online in Pediatric Neurology, could provide patients and their families with a better prognosis and the potential to target treatments specific to each condition in the future.

About half of all cases of encephalitis – a rare type of brain inflammation that affects about 1 of every 200,000 people in the U.S. each year – can be traced to an infection. For a portion of other cases in which the cause isn’t initially clear, researchers have discovered a link with the patients’ own immune systems inappropriately targeting and damaging the brain.

The most common forms of immune-related pediatric encephalitis are acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM) and autoimmune encephalitis (AE). Although these are two distinct disorders, explains UTSW pediatric critical care fellow Molly E. McGetrick, M.D., their presentation – including disorientation and other signs of altered mental status, seizures, or motor and sensory abnormalities – is largely the same in children, hindering an accurate diagnosis. In addition, the rarity of AE and ADEM makes amassing data to help distinguish these conditions more difficult…

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