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Brain Abscess

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

A brain abscess is an area of infection within the brain.

What is going on in the body?

A brain abscess is an area of infection within the brain that is usually separated from the rest of the brain by tissue. The abscess is toxic to the surrounding brain and produces swelling, pressure, and inflammation. It can also result in swelling of the brain tissue.

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

A brain abscess is generally caused by bacterial spread from an infection elsewhere in the body. These infections include:

  • a blood infection known as sepsis
  • sinusitis
  • post-operative infections
  • A person with HIV is more likely to have brain abscesses due to his or her weakened immune system.

    Brain abscesses expand over time, placing the surrounding brain at risk. If left untreated, the increasing size of the abscess will cause death.

    Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the infection?

    The symptoms of brain abscess are almost the same as those of a brain tumor. Pressure inside the brain causes:

  • headaches
  • loss of function in the part of the brain that is near the abscess
  • nausea and vomiting
  • drowsiness
  • seizures
  • changes in behavior
  • fever
  • signs of infection in the blood
  • sinusitis

  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the infection diagnosed?

    Diagnosis is made by a cranial CT or cranial MRI. It is very important to determine a possible source of infection, especially in someone with a weak immune system.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the infection?

    It is not possible to prevent a brain abscess, except by appropriate treatment of infections anywhere in the body.

    What are the long-term effects of the infection?

    The destruction and/or surgical removal of the abscess and the surrounding brain may cause permanent visual impairments or cognitive impairments. Problems resulting from destruction of brain tissue may need to be treated with physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy. A person with HIV often experiences multiple abscesses that may be caused by different infections. He or she may also experience a high rate of re-infection, making treatment difficult. This is especially true if tumors are also present.

    What are the risks to others?

    There are no risks to others from the brain abscess, but the underlying infection may be contagious to others.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the infection?

    Antibiotic medication will be given as treatment, usually followed by surgery. Since the abscess is blocked off from the rest of the brain, the antibiotics generally treat the surrounding brain. This helps to avoid infection of that part of the brain during and after surgery. There is a low risk of death during or from surgery, but there is a greater risk of death for those with HIV.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Infection to the part of the brain being operated on can lead to death or high rates of re-infection.

    What happens after treatment for the infection?

    Testing for HIV, AIDS, or other diseases such as diabetes is crucial in determining appropriate follow-up treatment.

    How is the infection monitored?

    During treatment with antibiotics, the abscess can be monitored with cranial CT scans or cranial MRIs. The individual will also be monitored for signs of brain swelling, which can be treated with medications to reduce the swelling.

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