Brain fever

Brain fever

Brain fever describes a medical condition where a part of the brain becomes inflamed and causes symptoms that present as fever. The inflammation of "brain fever" causes acute and chronic changes in the brain tissue, as well as causing mental, emotional, and motor difficulties and deterioration.

Through the 1800s, "brain fever" was poorly understood or defined. Babies who were born with encephalitis or developed it later often suffered profound physical and mental disabilities and never achieved normal developmental milestones. Adults who contracted meningitis or encephalitis suffered acute and chronic changes in brain functions and mental processes, emotions, and motor skills, often becoming childlike or becoming aggressive/attacking. Adults and children often regressed to soiling themselves, needing to be fed, needing help with mobility (e.g. standing, walking, etc.) Sufferers lost mental skills, such as mathematics and reading ability. Inflammation and swelling of the brain could cause profound mental and emotional changes, from inability to think, plan, or act meaningfully on plans, or to act-out, hitting, pinching, biting, etc. Many persons with these illnesses could wander away and thus, life without constant supervision became unsafe.

Adults and babies with "brain fever" in the 1800s and even up through the 1950s were often committed to either County Homes or mental institutions for long-term chronic care because families could not meet the person's physical needs at home or could not control the person's behavior (or both). Medical science could not alter the permanent brain changes once they occurred. Once antibiotics were discovered, physicians could treat the inflammation, but the deficits were permanent, with little benefit from physical or occupational therapies.

Brain fever may refer to:

  • Encephalitis, an acute inflammation of the brain, commonly caused by a viral infection.
  • Meningitis, the inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord.

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