A College Student’s Severe Headaches Resulted from Anti-NDMA Receptor Encephalitis

19-year-old Emily Duke was having an amazing time at Auburn University, where she studied hard and spent her spare time as acting Vice President of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. She seemed healthy and happy, enjoying her time at school and living life to its fullest. So, when she began experiencing headaches, she wasn’t too concerned. Then the headaches grew increasingly severe.

Around Thanksgiving, reports Jacob Kessler in the Daily Express US, Emily’s headaches worsened further. She traveled to Orlando to visit family when her condition took a sudden turn. Suddenly, Emily became disoriented. She began hallucinating and vomiting. After getting admitted to the hospital, Emily’s condition again deteriorated. She was non-responsive. Her abilities to eat, speak, and even move declined.

Receiving an Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis Diagnosis

In the hospital, doctors ran a flurry of tests to understand what was happening to Emily. The results showed that Emily had a rare autoimmune neurologic disease called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Also known as anti-NMDAR encephalitis, this condition occurs when the immune system creates antibodies that attack the NMDA receptor in the brain; it affects an estimated 1.5 in every 1 million people. NMDA receptors exist throughout the brain and play a role in neuronal signaling. This is why people with anti NMDA receptor encephalitis can have so many varied symptoms. For example, potential symptoms of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis often begin as flu-like symptoms that develop over days or weeks into:

  • Hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia
  • Seizures
  • Movement disorders
  • Problems with memory
  • Speech dysfunction
  • Behavioral changes
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Autonomic dysfunction (uncontrolled breathing or blood pressure; loss of bladder or bowel control)
  • Central hypoventilation (difficulty breathing)

Treatment for anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis include psychiatric medications and epilepsy drugs, intravenous immunoglobulin, corticosteroids, plasma exchange, cyclophosphamide, and/or rituximab. Immunotherapy is effective for about 80% of people, though recovering from this condition can take months.

Although this experience has been frightening, to say the least, Emily’s family is currently hoping for the best. She is undergoing treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Treatment can be both time-consuming and expensive. If you would like to contribute to Emily’s family and care during this time, consider donating to her GoFundMe page.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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