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What is Encephalomalacia?

By Sandra Koehler
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Encephalomalacia is a medical term referring to a condition that causes the brain to become soft. Also referred to as cerebromalacia or cerebral softening, this abnormal change of the brain is caused by some sort of injury. Upon injury to the brain, swelling and inflammation, the protective, healing process of the body, are initiated. In some cases this variation in brain size triggers an alteration in the brain’s pliability.

A softening of the brain can occur in a specific area or can be widespread. A hemorrhage or bleed into the brain can cause encephalomalacia, which is typically seen in a localized area where there is an abnormal collection of blood. Though rare, extensive softening of the brain can also be caused by degeneration or deterioration of the brain. This decline in brain tissue could be the result of a health condition or disease process.

Millard-Gubler syndrome, a rare circumstance of compromised physical wellbeing, is an example of this condition. This disorder of unknown origin results in a one-sided change in the consistency of the brain. This health condition is caused by an obstruction of blood flow to the pons.

The pons is a part of the brain located on the brain stem. It is composed of small paired trunk-like structures that form a bridge to connect the different areas of the brain. It also serves as a pathway for neurological or nerve signals to relay information to various areas of the body. The pons controls bodily functions such as bladder control, sleep, breathing and equilibrium. It also is responsible for controlling the sensations and movements of the face.

Since the pons is connected to several cranial nerves, brain softening due to Millard-Gubler syndrome and its related encephalomalacia is considered a neurological disorder. Problems may irritate the nerves of the face which in turn can affect the movement of the eyes and facial sensations or feelings. In extreme cases it may even bring about a condition called contralateral or crossed hemiplegia. This form of paralysis or inability to move affects the side opposite the encephalomalacia.

Treatment consists of finding and treating the underlying cause of the change in the brain mass or consistency. In severe cases removal of the softened brain material may be necessary. It is unclear whether the soft brain tissue can ever return to normal. It is also unclear if functional mobility or sensations impaired by changes of the brain consistency will return to normal once those areas are removed.

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Discussion Comments
By anon994832 — On Mar 10, 2016

I was diagnosed, but never told that I had Encephalomalacia frontal lobe. Doctors changed the diagnosis to a mental illness. I was thrown into a psychiatric unit for nine days, because they knew I had already suffered at least three prior strokes. They continue today trying to make a mental illness out of my debilitating symptoms.

I have blanked out while driving, I have partial paralysis while lying down too long or upon awakening. My vision is a struggle every single day. I used to enjoy shopping but now I have to hold onto my stair rail just to get up and down the stairs. The pain in my legs is so bad that I just lie down periodically throughout the day. I've had so many MRIs I've lost count.

We must get help together or we are all going to end up in a vegetative state. We have a long road ahead of us. Stay strong. Hope my post helps you.

By anon352201 — On Oct 20, 2013

My husband's recent MRI just turned up a foci of softening in the globus pallidus of his brain. They say it is consistent with cyanide poisoning.

As he grew up in The Troubles of Ireland with all types of British warfare directed at the Republic, then later was in the Kosovo war, it's hard to say if he might have been exposed to something as sinister as cyanide, but perhaps.

We meet with the doctor next week to better interpret the results and see if anything can, or should be done. From what I've read, he is lucky to function as normally as he does. I feel badly for anyone who suffers from worse.

By anon342102 — On Jul 17, 2013

My MRI says my "area" is consistent with chronic encephalomalacia as a diagnosis. I haven't seen a neurologist yet. I'm a 41 year old single mother to a six year old I adore. I can't find any info on causes, or any info on anything. If anyone here could help me understand what might be going on, I would be forever grateful. --Tracie

By anon341243 — On Jul 09, 2013

My nine year old had an MRI scan and found cystic encephalomacia. It has caused right side hemiplegia with no lower peripheral vision. They said it was caused by a stroke in the womb. Never has there ever been talk about removing the softened brain tissue.

By B707 — On Nov 01, 2011

One cause of encephalomalacia, Millard-Gubler syndrome, must be very devastating. To have paralysis in your face and not be able to smile, use your eyes, or experience feeling in your face would be horrible. That part of the illness sounds like what sometimes happens with a stroke that paralyzes your face.

But then to have other symptoms and a softening of the brain would be hard to handle. I'm so glad that this is a rare condition.

By sweetPeas — On Oct 31, 2011

Fortunately, the condition encephalomalacia is rare, and the things that cause it are pretty rare also. It must be a real devastating condition to deal with.

Doctors only seem to know that it is probably caused by an injury or some disease. If the brain becomes too soft, they have to take some of it out. That couldn't be a good thing. I'd say it is unlikely that this portion could grow back.

There's so many things that could happen to our bodies that we really can't control.

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