What is a brain abscess?
It is a collection of pus in the brain.
What causes it?
- An infection that spreads within the brain tissue.
- An infection carried in the blood from other sites in the body to the brain tissue.
Half of these infections start in the middle ear, mastoid, or sinus. Rarely, they can be caused by brain surgery, skull fractures, or oral surgery. There is an increased risk of brain abscess with IV drug abusers.
The location of the abscess depends on the source of infection and how it spreads within the body. Abscesses vary in shape and size. Most often they are deep within the brain.
What are some common signs?
Common signs are:
- headache usually over the site of the abscess
- recurrent headaches that worsen with cough or exertion
- neck pain with stiffness
- speech problems
- focal deficit like hemiplegia
- flu-like symptoms
How is an abscess diagnosed and treated?
A CT scan with contrast is done to view the size and location of the abscess.
Treatment consists of antibiotics. Drain placement, and/or surgery may be done to remove the abscess. This depends on the size and location. A biopsy can be sent to find out which organism is responsible. Doctors may order steroids to reduce any brain swelling and seizure medicines. With proper treatment, an abscess can be removed. A brain abscess is fatal if left untreated. Please feel free to ask your doctors and nurses any questions you may have.
Barker, E. (Ed). (2008). Neuroscience Nursing: A Spectrum of Care (3rd ed). (pp. 151-54). St. Louis: Mosby.
Clinical Practice of Neurological and Neurosurgical nursing: 2003, 5th edition, Joanne Hickey, p.651-653.
Southwick, F. (Sept. 2009). Pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of brain abscess. Retrieved from Up to Date 17.3.
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Last Updated: 01/29/2010
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