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​Brain Abscess

What is a Brain Abscess?

An abscess is a collection of pus in an enclosed area of the body. Within the brain, bacterial or fungal infections cause abscesses.

A brain abscess is a serious, life-threatening condition. Ruptured abscesses have a high mortality rate.

What causes brain abscesses?

Brain abscesses form when fungi, viruses, or bacteria reach your brain, typically through a head wound or infection elsewhere in your body. Heart and lung infections are among the most common causes of brain abscess.

Those with weakened immune systems, chronic disease, or who take drugs that suppress the immune system are most at risk of developing brain abscesses.

Treating brain abscesses at UPMC

The goals of treatment for brain abscesses are to reduce intracranial pressure and eliminate the infection.

At UPMC, neurosurgeons will remove or drain the brain abscess to relieve the pressure. After treatment, you will need to take a course of antibiotics.

Brain Abscess Symptoms and Diagnosis

Diagnosing brain abscesses

Doctors can identify brain abscesses using imaging studies, such as MRI or CT scans.

Your doctor will also ask you about your symptoms.

Symptoms of a brain abscess

Brain abscess symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Confusion and general changes in mental state, including inability to focus
  • Vision changes
  • Weakness and difficulty with muscle function
  • Seizures
  • Decreased sensation
  • Trouble with speech

Symptoms of brain abscess in babies and young children include high-pitched cries, poor feeding, and full or bulging fontanelle (the soft spot located on the top of a baby’s head).

Sudden onset of a worsening headache, along with rigidity of the neck muscles and intolerance of bright light, could be signs that the brain abscess has ruptured.

Brain Abscess Treatments

Treatment for a brain abscess includes both:

  • Medicine (antibiotics) to eliminate the infection. Medicine may be used to treat your brain abscess if it is smaller than 2 centimeters, is located deep in the brain, or occurs alongside meningitis. You will likely be prescribed several different antibiotics to treat the abscess.
  • Surgery to remove or drain the abscess and relieve the pressure in the skull. Surgery may be used if your brain abscess does not get smaller after antibiotics, contains gas, or may leak open. The surgical approach will vary depending on the location of the abscess.

The surgical approach will vary depending on the location of the abscess.

Our neurosurgical team will evaluate you and find the treatment path that is the least disruptive to your brain, critical nerves, and ability to return to normal functioning.

Neurosurgery at UPMC: A powerful team approach
Dr. Robert M. Friedlander discusses the team approach to treating neurosurgical patients.