In its broadest sense, the word "encephalopathy" means "dysfunction of the brain". There are many possible causes for such dysfunction. Some are permanent, some are temporary. The condition may go away on its own, leaving no damage, or it could linger without improvement, for a lifetime.
Encephalopathy can be caused by disease, malnutrition or infection. It can be the result of hypertension (high blood pressure) or lack of oxygen. It can stem from exposure to drugs, toxins or radiation. Boxer's encephalopathy can come about from repeated head trauma.
"Metabolic" refers to anything having to do with metabolism. Metabolism encompasses all the chemical reactions that take place in the cells of any living thing. These chemical reactions are converting food into fuel, and they are providing energy to maintain life.
The metabolic processes in a healthy organism are well-regulated and constant. They make it possible for living things to grow, to reproduce and to interact with their environment.
Metabolism is the building up of matter (anabolism) and the breaking down of matter (catabolism). While metabolism continues, life continues. When metabolism stops, life comes to an end.
Metabolic Encephalopathy then is brain dysfunction which is specifically due to some metabolic cause.
That means the damage may be the result of organs in the body not functioning properly. There may have been some type of problem with blood sugar (hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia) or low sodium levels (hyponatremia) or possibly malfunction of the thyroid. Or it may mean that there was insufficient oxygen, water, electrolytes, glucose, or some other needed substance.
The most common scenario is one that involves a serious illness. The illness will have overwhelmed the liver in its task of removing toxins from the bloodstream. As toxins accumulate rather than being removed from the body, the damage spreads.
Some diseases that can lead to metabolic encephalopathy are cirrhosis, diabetes, hepatitis, heart failure and kidney failure.
Serious symptoms can emerge quickly, depending on the cause of the encephalopathy.