Encephalomalacia describes the softening or loss of brain tissue after an injury. Doctors also refer to this condition as cerebral softening. Encephalomalacia is a very serious brain disorder that can cause permanent tissue damage, such as brain scarring or loss of tissues. Encephalomalacia can cause brain damage that impairs functioning and health, as well as lead to certain diseases and disorders. Accident victims with encephalomalacia may never fully recover. Here’s what you need to know about this severe type of injury.
Encephalomalacia can stem from many types of trauma, including traumatic brain injury in an accident, surgery complications, fungal infection, and birth injuries. These traumas can cause liquefactive necrosis, or the transformation of brain tissue into liquid viscous mass.
Types of Encephalomalacia
There are two ways encephalomalacia may manifest itself in a patient. Each form affects the patient very differently, as it occurs in a different region of the brain. Here is an overview of both:
- Polioencephalomalacia, or cerebrocortical necrosis. This results in damage to the brain’s gray matter, a component of the central nervous system. Encephalomalacia in this part of the brain can cause damage to memory, emotions, speech, sensory perception, and muscle control.
- This form damages the brain’s white matter, or the area of the brain responsible for learning and brain function. It also carries nerve signals throughout the cerebrum and different parts of the brain. Patients with encephalomalacia to white matter can suffer cognitive disabilities.
A patient with encephalomalacia may complain of symptoms such as great need to sleep, poor coordination, clumsiness or wobbling, visual impairment or blindness, vertigo, pressure in the head, severe headache, memory loss, or mood swings. In severe cases, encephalomalacia can cause terminal coma.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Encephalomalacia in Accident Victims
To diagnose encephalomalacia, a doctor must use an MRI to view a clear picture of the brain. When encephalomalacia is present, the brain image will show tissue softening. Then, a CT scan will provide a more in-depth diagnosis of when the cerebral softening began. A CT scan will show where tissue has become less dense than surrounding, healthy tissues. It will also show the volume of tissue lost and where the condition is occurring.
A doctor will assess the stage of encephalomalacia based on the color of the damage:
- This means an area of the brain has little to no blood flow, resulting in the death and softening of neuronal tissues.
- Brain tissue may soften and become yellow if there is atherosclerotic plaque buildup in the arteries to the brain. Yellow lymph will build up in the brain, creating the yellow pigmentation.
- This color signals hemorrhagic infarct, or the death of tissues due to oxygen deprivation from blocked veins in the brain. Red blood cells cause a reddening of the brain’s tissues.
There is no cure for encephalomalacia. Sadly, once something destroys the brain’s tissues, there is no way to regain what is lost. This can mean that patients suffer permanent damage due to cerebral softening. Treatment relies on early detection of the problem, and an understanding of its underlying cause. Doctors may be able to treat the underlying brain tissue, or remove damaged brain tissue through surgery. This may or may not help functioning and sensations improve in the remaining areas of the brain.
Researchers are still trying to find and test possible treatments for encephalomalacia. Stem cell therapy currently holds promise in this area, especially in terms of brain tissue regeneration. There is currently a high possibility of permanent neurological deficits, especially in infants with encephalomalacia. Adults have better prognoses, and can lead long lives despite loss of brain tissue and potential resultant disorders.