Definition: Encephalomalacia or cerebral softening is a serious disorder, which leads to a permanent damage to the tissues of the brain. Like multiple sclerosis, cerebral softening may lead to brain scarring and tissue loss. If there is scarring, it will appear as a very thick network of damaged nerve cells. Eventually, this will lead to tissue loss and the brain may stop working efficiently. Because the mind is the control center of the human body, this condition may affect the other organs of the body resulting in additional disorders or diseases.
Anyone can develop encephalomalacia including infants and fetuses. This condition is fatal for infants. For this reason, it is helpful to understand this medical condition, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Categories and Types (Pictures):
Encephalomalacia has two main categories, which depends on the affected part of the central nervous system (CNS).
Polioencephalomalacia occurs when the damage to the brain affects the grey matter of the CNS.
About 40% of the brain is grey matter and it consumes about 94% of its oxygen because it includes all the parts that process information. Thus, an encephalomalacia in this part of the CNS may affect important functions including speech, memory, emotions, sensory perception, and muscle control.
Leukoencephalomalacia is a medical condition wherein the brain damage is affecting the white matter of the CNS.
The primary responsibility of the white matter is to ensure proper and efficient communication between the brain and the body. Aside from that, this part of the CNS is also responsible for the involuntary movements of the body such as breathing, beating of the heart, stabilizing the blood pressure, and regulating the body’s temperature. Thus, this type of encephalomalacia can mess up these essential body functions.
Images of Encephalomalacia:
Depending on the severity of the brain damage, encephalomalacia has 3 types, which includes the following:
- Red Softening
Red softening occurs when the affected area of the brain turns red due to the presence of blood. Victims of hemorrhagic stroke will experience this type of cerebral softening. It occurs when a broken capillary or artery leaks blood, which results to an oversupply of blood in the affected area.
- White Softening
Most parts of the brain are either yellow or white. However, because of the blood vessels, it has a little bit of color. When the area where the softening occurs is either white or pale, it indicates that there is no blood supply. Various reasons can cause this. It can be because the brain tissue is dead. Another possible reason is that there is a blood leakage somewhere in the brain. Lastly, a blockage is preventing the blood flow to the area.
- Yellow Softening
If the brain tissue is yellow, it is a sign that there is a plaque build-up in the brain’s arteries. This type of cerebral softening is common in trauma victims.
Causes and Symptoms
Various health conditions and diseases can cause this type of brain damage. The following are the common causes of encephalomalacia.
- A common cause of this disorder is hemorrhage or bleeding in the brain due to a stroke or a serious head injury. Cerebral Softening is often seen in brain areas that have an abnormal build-up of blood.
- In some cases, the brain softening is a result of an inadequate blood supply. Various factors can cause this problem. One, in particular, is a stroke. It can also occur when a certain part of the brain is swelling. Another possible reason is due to tumor removal, which damages the tissues surrounding the tumor.
- When a certain area of the brain dies because of a stroke, it may lead to the formation of scar tissues, which consists of astrocytes. Once these scar tissues contact, it may lead to cerebral softening.
- Another possible cause of this disorder is an infection. Although most microorganisms are unable to infect the brain because the blood-brain barrier, some microorganisms can pass this protective layer.
Because the brain has stopped functioning, a person with encephalomalacia will experience symptoms, which includes the following:
- Ataxia or the loss of muscle coordination
- Head pressing
- Terminal coma
Your doctor will order tests to verify if you have this type of disorder, these tests are:
- Computerized Tomography (CT) scan
A CT scan is a non-invasive way to see the inside of the body. It can produce a series of X-rays images of the brain taken from different angles.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
An MRI is a non-invasive procedure to scan your body. It produces detailed images of the brain and other body parts by using strong radio waves and magnetic fields. Compared to a CT scan, this test will provide a clear view of the inside of your brain.
These two tests will help your doctor see the internal view of your brain without opening your body. If you have cerebral softening, these tests will help him find the underlying cause of the condition.
Unlike some organs of the body, the brain is unable to rebuild or regenerate after acquiring damages. Thus, a damaged brain tissue is untreatable. However, as of today, researchers are working on the best approach to combat this problem. The common treatment options are the following.
- The primary focus of doctors when trying to treat this medical condition is early detection and determining the underlying cause of the softening. Once determined, the doctor will fix this problem. Still, the damage to the brain tissues is permanent.
- The doctor may recommend surgery to remove brain tissues with severe damages. However, it is still unclear if this method can help improve the sensations and function of the unaffected area of the brain. Moreover, other problems may develop after the surgery.
- The stem cell therapy is a promising treatment option for brain disorders and deterioration. It involves the transplant of stem cells to replaced damaged cells. However, researchers are still exploring this treatment option. Thus, there is insufficient data for its effectiveness in treating encephalomalacia.