Brain Abscess – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What is a brain abscess?
A brain abscess is a swelling in the brain. This condition occurs due to a collection of pus, immune cells, and other material in the brain, usually from a bacterial or fungal infection.
What causes a brain abscess?
A brain abscess develops when bacteria or fungi infect part of the brain. As a result, swelling and irritation (inflammation) develops. Infected brain cells, white blood cells, live and dead bacteria, or fungi collect in an area of the brain. Tissue forms around this area and creates a mass or abscess.
The microbes that cause a brain abscess can reach the brain through the blood or directly during brain surgery.
The most common source of the brain infection is lung infection, rarely a heart infection or sinus infection. Sometimes, the source of the infection is not found.
The following factors increase the risk of developing a brain abscess:
- Chronic disease, such as cancer
- A weakened immune system
- Using immunosuppressant drugs (corticosteroids or chemotherapy)
- Congenital heart disease
What are the symptoms of a brain abscess?
Brain abscess symptoms can develop suddenly or they can develop slowly over a period of several weeks. The following are the common symptoms:
- Mental status changes, such as confusion, slow response or thinking
- Lack of concentration
- Decreased feeling of sensation
- A headache or seizures
- Stiff neck
- Language problems
- Loss of muscle function on one side
- Vision changes
- Fever and chills
How is a brain abscess diagnosed?
After performing a physical exam and reviewing the symptoms, the doctor will perform a neurological exam to look for signs of increased pressure inside the skull and other problems with brain function.
The doctor may do the following tests to diagnose a brain abscess:
- Head CT scan
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
- MRI of head
- Chest x-ray
- Blood cultures
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Tests for the presence of antibodies to certain germs
- A needle biopsy to find out the cause of the infection.
How is a brain abscess treated?
A brain abscess is a medical emergency, as the pressure inside the skull may increase and become life-threatening. The doctor may admit the affected person is in a hospital until the condition is stable. Life support may also be provided if need be.
Generally, treatment with medicines is recommended if:
- The abscess is less than 2 cm in size
- The abscess is deep in the brain
- Meningitis is present along with abscess
- There are several abscesses
- There are shunts in the brain for hydrocephalus
- There is toxoplasmosis in a person with HIV/AIDS
A doctor usually prescribes several different types of antibiotics to make sure treatment works. The doctor may also prescribe antifungal medicines if the infection is caused by a fungus.
The doctor may recommend surgery if:
- The high pressure in the brain continues or gets worse
- The brain abscess does not shrink after treating with medicines
- The brain abscess contains gas
- The brain abscess shows signs of rupturing
- The brain abscess is more than 2 cm in size
Surgical intervention involves opening the skull, exposing the brain, and draining the abscess.
After the surgery, laboratory tests are done to examine the fluid to identify the cause of the infection. Based on the results of the tests, antibiotic or antifungal medicines will be prescribed. The doctor may also prescribe diuretics (water pills) and steroids to reduce the swelling of the brain.
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.