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Brain Abscess - Causes and Symptoms

Other Names: Cerebral Abscess, CNS Abscess.

Brain Abscess Definition

A brain abscess is a mass of immune cells, pus, and other material that can occur when the brain is infected by bacteria or fungus. This condition may cause problems with the brain and spinal cord function. Brain abscesses are rare, but are more common in young school-aged children than other ages.

Brain Abscess Causes

Brain abscesses commonly occur when bacteria or fungi infect part of the brain. Inflammation develops in response. Infected brain cells, white blood cells, and live and dead microorganisms collect in a limited area of the brain.

Other Causes of Brain Abscess and sources of transmission of causative agents:

  • Brain Abscess usually occurs as a secondary infection stemmed from nasopharyngeal infections such as otitis media, sinusitis, dental abscess, and mastoiditis. Because of improved antibiotic therapy, these sources now account for approximately 40% of cases.
  • Blood carries the infection from farther away in the body to the brain.
  • Infectious organisms enter the brain through a penetrating injury, such as a gunshot wound, or from neurosurgical procedures or facial trauma.
  • Other causes include subdural empyema, bacterial endocarditis, HIV infection, bacteremia, pulmonary or pleural infection, pelvic, abdominal, and skin infections; and cranial trauma, such as a penetrating head wound or compound skull fracture.

Brain Abscess Symptoms

A brain abscess can cause many different symptoms, depending on its location, its size, and the extent of inflammation and swelling around the abscess. The symptoms of brain abscess usually occur in a week of developing infection. A fever and chills may occur at first but then disappear as the body fights off the infection. Early symptoms are characteristic of a bacterial infection and may include the following:

  • Persistent headache (often localized).
  • Nausea.
  • Stiff neck, shoulders, or back.
  • Sleepiness.
  • Aching of neck, shoulders, or back.
  • Vomiting.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Seizures.
  • Confusion.
  • Inattention.
  • Increased irritability.
  • Slow thought processes.
  • personality changes.
  • Decreasing responsiveness.
  • Low- or high-grade fever accompanied with chills.
  • A full or bulging fontanelle (soft spot located on the top of the head).
  • General or focal seizures.
  • General malaise.
  • There may also be seen some other signs of brain dysfunction also.

Brain Abscess Treatment

  • The treatment includes lowering the increased intracranial pressure and starting intravenous antibiotics. In the meantime, doctors may identify the causative organism mainly by blood culture studies, so that correct treatment can be provided.
  • Other treatments during the acute phase are palliative and supportive - they include mechanical ventilation and administration or I.V. fluids with diuretics (urea, mannitol) and glucocorticoids (dexamethasone) to combat increased ICP and cerebral edema. Anticonvulsants, such as phenytoin and phenobarbital, help prevent seizures.
  • Surgical aspiration or removal of brain abscess are performed for patients that are resistant to medical treatments.
  • Persons developing cerebral abscess should immediately report to their health care provider as it is a medical emergency. Hospitalization is required until the condition is stabilized. Life support may be required in some cases.

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