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.