The brain is a wonderful and puzzling organ. While doctors and scientists think they’ve discovered the majority of its functions, there are many more mysteries left to solve. That’s part of the reason why we tend to panic whenever we hear any medical diagnosis that involves the brain. Take encephalomalacia, for example. The word itself sounds a little scary, but when you learn that it is linked to the softening of the brain, encephalomalacia seems absolutely terrifying. But should it be?
In this article, we’re going to take a look at encephalomalacia: from the encephalomalacia definition, to causes of encephalomalacia, to encephalomalacia symptoms and treatment for encephalomalacia. Hopefully, by the time you’re done reading this, the condition will be a little less intimidating.
What Is Encephalomalacia (Softening of the Brain)?
What is encephalomalacia exactly? It is the softening of brain tissue—most often the localized softening of the brain tissue—due to inflammation or hemorrhage. However, in rare cases, it can spread to other parts of the organ. The softening can affect the brain in numerous ways, especially when it leads to scarring that often causes further brain issues. While it is uncommon, softening of the entire brain does occur as well as complete shutdown of the parts of the brain affected by encephalomalacia. In other words, this condition is deadly serious and should be treated as such. And the first step is learning more about the different types.
Types of Encephalomalacia
The first thing you should know about encephalomalacia is that there are two different types: polioencephalomalacia and leukoencephalomalacia. Polioencephalomalacia affects the gray matter of your brain. Gray matter is an important part of your central nervous system, affecting things like memory, emotions, muscle control, speech, and sensory perception. Leukoencephalomalacia affects the white matter, which the brain uses for transmitting signals from one end of your cerebrum to another.
The second thing you need to know is that there are also three different categories of softening.
1. White softening
Softening occurs in the area of the brain that doesn’t have much in the way of blood flow
2. Red softening
Softening occurs in an area of the brain where blood flow is restored but was previously restricted by a fat globule, blood clot, foreign material, or gas bubble in your bloodstream
3. Yellow softening
The result of a buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in your interior brain arteries
Now that you have the basics of the different types and categories of encephalomalacia, you may be wondering what actually causes it.
What Causes Encephalomalacia?
Unfortunately, there are many different encephalomalacia causes. The most common causes of encephalomalacia include cerebral infarction and ischemia, infection, and traumatic brain injury.
1. Cerebral Infarction and Ischemia
A cerebral infarction is a technical term for what we generally refer to as a stroke. It’s an interruption of blood flow to your brain by an obstruction. Cerebral ischemia is similar as it’s a reduced flow of blood to the brain due to obstruction, this usually results in mini-strokes.
A number of infections that either spread to the brain or directly affect the organ can cause damage resulting in the softening of the brain’s tissues.
3. Traumatic Brain Injury
Sadly, one of the most common causes of brain softening is traumatic brain injury. This can range from a car accident to a bad fall to being shot in the head.
Within these common causes, lie several additional possible causes. For example, there are various infections that can cause brain softening, and the number of brain injury causes is also rather extensive.
What Are Symptoms of Encephalomalacia?
The thing to remember when discussing the symptoms of encephalomalacia is that it’s first necessary to rule out any distinct symptoms of the underlying cause. An infection in your brain, for example, can cause numerous symptoms that are unrelated to the brain softening itself. That being said, encephalomalacia’s symptoms can be fairly widespread depending on what part of the brain the softening is affecting. Here are some of the more common symptoms of encephalomalacia.
- Severe headache
- Severe form of drowsiness
- Mood swings
- Difficulty in movement and coordination
- Pressure in the head
- Blindness (temporary, permanent, or reoccurring)
- Memory loss
With so many different causes and symptoms to consider, how does a doctor go about diagnosing the problem?
Diagnosis of Encephalomalacia
Diagnosing encephalomalacia can be problematic due to the number of symptoms that accompany both root causes of encephalomalacia and the condition itself. The doctor will go through your recent medical history and current symptoms that you are having issues with. If the doctor begins to suspect encephalomalacia, the next step is medical imaging.
There are multiple medical imaging tests that can reveal encephalomalacia, which can include magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, and computed tomography (CT) scan. These tests can reveal the damage done to your brain as well as signs of decreased brain volume.
After seeing all of the causes and symptoms of encephalomalacia, you may be understandably worried about the condition and curious about what type of treatment can be used—if there is any at all.
Sadly, there is no direct treatment or cure for encephalomalacia. Once your brain is damaged, it is damaged permanently. Treatment is instead directed at keeping the symptoms and the underlying causes of the brain softening at bay. Controlling and/or curing the causes can reduce the chances of further damage and the spread of brain softening to the rest of the brain. In essence, you may not be able to do anything about the actual damage that has occurred, but you and your doctors may be able to stop it from getting worse. In very severe cases, a portion of the damaged brain may be surgically removed to stop the spread of the encephalomalacia.
Encephalomalacia May Be Scary, but There Is Help
There are no two ways about it: Encephalomalacia is frightening to think about. If you’ve ever had a traumatic head injury or an infection, knowing that further issues can affect you is distressing to say the least. However, while there is no encephalomalacia treatment per se, there are plenty of treatments and therapies that can help you cope with the accompanying issues. Whatever you do, don’t give up; there is help, but it may take longer to find the right solution for you.