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Rare Encephalitis Commonly Misdiagnosed as Mental Illness

If you began having hallucinations, paranoia, and seizures, you might think you were going crazy, and the people around you might think the same thing. But in some rare cases these symptoms are a sign of a form of brain inflammation known as anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis.

For one 24-year-old woman, the disease was a nightmare. Doctors were puzzled as she suffered seizures and delusions. It took several weeks before a mystery-solving doctor came to her aid.

Prior to Dr. Souhel Najjar’s involvement in Susannah Cahalan’s case, doctors were grasping at straws. All of the tests they conducted came back normal. They wanted to send her home from the hospital, but her mother refused.

When Dr. Najjar came into her hospital room, he had an odd request: He asked her to draw a clock. Interestingly, and to confirm his suspicions, she drew the clock with all 12 numbers off to the right side. Anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis was infecting the right hemisphere of her brain and the clock was evidence of its effects on her visual world.

Because the symptoms of this rare disease are psychiatric in nature, many people first go to a mental health provider when they begin their search for answers. Seizures and language deficits also happen, but “they are often overshadowed by the more dramatic psychiatric symptoms,” according to the Daily Mail.

Sometimes, children with the disorder are misdiagnosed as being autistic. Sometimes the issue is believed to be supernatural or evil, requiring an exorcism rather than normal medical care.

While anti-NMDA-receptor encephalitis is rare and an extreme example, misdiagnoses are not rare occurences. In general, doctors can easily mistake one illness for another or mistake a deadly disease for a passing virus. In any case, the results of such a flawed diagnosis can be fatal.

If you were misdiagnosed and the error led to injury or delayed treatment, you could have grounds for legal action. The Chicago medical malpractice lawyers of Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., may be able to help. Contact our offices today to discuss the details of your case and the options available to you.

Patrick A. Salvi

Patrick A. Salvi concentrates his legal practice in several limited areas primarily involving a trial practice in cases concerning serious personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and mass torts. Mr. Salvi has achieved record-breaking jury verdicts and settlements on behalf of his clients, including serving as lead counsel in obtaining an Illinois record-high $148 million jury verdict and a Lake County record $33 million jury verdict.

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