Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
Encephalomalacia means cerebral softening. It is an extremely serious medical condition that causes damage to the brain a person can suffer. It can occur in anyone regardless of race, age, or gender, including infants and the embryo during development. It can spread to areas of the brain that are adjacent or appear in a particular part of your brain. Your brain is the core of your central nervous system. It is a very complex organ in your body. When the softness of your brain is altered, it can affect multiple organs causing alterations with the normal functions of your body and your overall health, leading to many other medical disorders and diseases.
There are two main types of encephalomalacia. Each one affects different areas of your brain. The two types include:
- Polioencephalomalacia – this type affects your gray matter, which is a major component of your central nervous system. It involves the part of your brain that is responsible for muscle control, emotions, speech, sensory perception, and memory.
- Leukoencephalomalacia – this type affects your white matter, which is composed of axons and glial cells. These are responsible for transmitting signals from one end of your cerebrum to another. It also transmits signals between your lower brain centers and your cerebrum.
Encephalomalacia is categorized according to the stages and colors of damage, which include:
- Red softening – this is due to a hemorrhagic infarct, which is when the blood flow is restored to an area of your brain that was previously restricted by a blood clot, foreign material, gas bubble, or fat globule in your bloodstream. These are referred to as an embolism.
- Yellow softening – this occurs due to the build-up of atherosclerotic plaque in your interior brain arteries.
- White softening – this occurs in an area that has little to no blood flow and are referred to as anemic or pale infarcts
With encephalomalacia, there can be various symptoms and can go from mild to severe in degrees of severity. It depends a lot on the part of your brain that was affected along with the portion of your brain that was hit. Symptoms will change from person to person, depending on your health status and age.
Some of the common symptoms of having encephalomalacia include:
- Extreme drowsiness or having an episode of drowsiness
- Lack of moving coordination and wobbliness
- Blindness that can be permanent or temporary
- Head spinning that is severe or vertigo
- Head pressing
- Severe headache
- Mood swings and memory loss if it affects your frontal lobe of your brain
It could also lead to a terminal coma.
There are many causes as to why a person develops encephalomalacia. The most common cause is a head injury that is serious enough so that it subjects your brain to softening of the tissues. If it is localized it is usually seen with a hemorrhage. Other causes can include:
- Deterioration and degeneration of your brain but these are a rare occurrence
- Cerebral infarction – this is commonly referred to as a stroke, which is the interruption in your blood flow because of some type of obstruction.
- The blood flow disruption could also be in your blood vessels that supply your brain.
- Cerebral ischemia – this is also a type of mini- stroke and is the result of the supply of blood to your brain being insufficient, which results in a metabolic deficiency.
- Traumatic brain injury – this is when any mechanical force externally is directed at your brain and causes brain dysfunction. It can happen due to any foreign object that penetrates your skull like a bullet. It could also be from a violent blow that is directed to your brain. It could also be a vicious jolt to your brain.
- Infection – this is any form of infection that could result from a causative agent that spreads into your brain or hits the brain directly
To diagnosis encephalomalacia, they are evaluated through imaging tests like MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), which is the imaging test that is most often used to find out the condition of this medical disorder. To see when the onset of softening of your brain tissue began they will use a CT scan (computed tomography scan).
At this time, there is no cure or direct treatment for encephalomalacia but instead treatment is aimed at the underlying condition that influenced the consistency and pliability of your brain tissue. There is no treatment at this time that can reverse what damage that been caused to your brain by encephalomalacia. For an extreme severe case of encephalomalacia, it can be managed by surgically removing the area of the brain that was affected. Even doing this there is no guarantee that the damage that has been done can be reversed or the functionality of your part of your brain that has been damaged can be restored. There are also no clear indications if any sensations can be restored in the functional mobility of your brain after there have been changes.
In an infant, the prognosis is usually poor and often they cannot be saved if they have encephalomalacia. If they do survive, they could suffer neurological deficits. When promptly treating the underlying cause in adults they have a prognosis that is better, especially if encephalomalacia is detected early..
The life span for infants born with this medical condition has a diminutive lifespan while adults have a chance for a longer life span, but only if the right treatment is done. What the life span differs from person to person. It also depends on the severity and extent encephalomalacia has caused along with health status and age of the person.