Bacterial infection is the usual cause of an abscess in the
brain of an otherwise healthy person. Fungal brain abscesses tend to occur in
those with weakened immune systems. The infection will cause your brain to
swell from the collection of pus and dead cells that form.
A brain abscess forms when fungi, viruses, or bacteria reach
your brain through a wound in your head or an infection somewhere else in your
body. According to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, infections from other
parts of the body account for between 20
and 50 percent of all brain abscess cases. Heart and lung infections are
among the most common causes of brain abscesses. However, brain abscesses can
also begin from an ear or sinus infection, or even an abscessed tooth.
See your doctor right away if you have a brain abscess. You’ll
need the appropriate treatment to prevent any brain damage from the swelling.
Are the Risk Factors?
Nearly anyone can get a brain abscess, but certain groups of
people are at a higher risk than others. Some diseases, disorders, and
conditions that raise your risk include:
- a compromised immune system due to HIV or AIDS
- cancer and other chronic illnesses
- congenital heart disease
- major head injury or skull fracture
- immunosuppressant drugs, such as those used in
- chronic sinus or middle ear infections
Certain birth defects allow infections to reach the brain more
easily through the teeth and intestines. One example of this is tetralogy of
Fallot, which is a heart defect.
Are the Symptoms of a Brain Abscess?
Symptoms usually develop slowly over several weeks, but they can also
come on suddenly sometimes. Symptoms you should watch for are:
- differences in mental processes, such as
increased confusion, decreased responsiveness, and irritability
- decreased speech
- decreased sensation
- decreased movement due to loss of muscle
- changes in vision
- changes in personality or behavior
In babies and young children, most of the symptoms are similar. However,
your child may show other symptoms of a brain abscess. The soft spot on top of your
baby’s head, called the fontanelle, may be swollen or bulging. Other symptoms
in your child can include:
- projectile vomiting
- high-pitched crying
- spasticity in the limbs
Is a Brain Abscess Diagnosed?
Many of these symptoms closely resemble other diseases or health
problems. Talk to your doctor immediately if you develop any of the symptoms. You’ll
likely need a neurological exam. This exam can reveal any increased pressure
within the brain, which can occur from swelling. CT and MRI scans can also be
used to diagnose a brain abscess.
In some cases, your doctor may need to perform a lumbar puncture,
or spinal tap. This involves the removal of a small amount of cerebral spinal
fluid to test for any problems other than an infection. A lumbar puncture will
not be performed if any brain swelling is suspected. This is to avoid the risk
of brain hematoma or a ruptured blood vessel in the brain.
Is the Treatment for a Brain Abscess?
A brain abscess is a serious medical situation. A stay in the
hospital will be required. Pressure due to swelling in the brain can cause
reduced blood flow, which can lead to permanent brain damage.
If your abscess is deep inside your brain or it’s 2.5 centimeters
or less, it will probably be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotic medications
will also be used to treat any underlying infections. Broad-spectrum
antibiotics that kill a variety of different bacteria are the most commonly
prescribed. You may need more than one type of antibiotic.
Surgery is often the next step if an abscess doesn’t get smaller
with the use of antibiotics. It may also be the preferred treatment for abscesses
greater than 2.5 centimeters wide. Surgically removing an abscess usually
involves opening the skull and draining the abscess. The fluid that’s removed
is normally sent to labs to determine the cause of the infection. Knowing the
cause of the infection will help your doctor find the most effective
Surgery must be performed in the most severe cases when the
abscess causes a dangerous buildup of pressure in the brain. Your doctor may
recommend surgery as the best option in the following cases:
- Your brain abscess is at risk of rupturing
inside of the skull.
- Your brain abscess contains gasses sometimes
produced by bacteria.
a Brain Abscess Be Prevented?
A brain abscess is a serious medical condition. Prevention is
important. You can lower your risk by monitoring any conditions that may result
in a brain abscess. Call your doctor at the first sign of a brain abscess.
If you have any type of heart disorder, talk with your doctor before
having any dental or urological procedures. Your doctor can prescribe
antibiotics for you to take before these procedures. This will reduce your risk
of an infection that could spread to your brain.