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Cerebral Abscess

A cerebral abscess is a pocket of infected material in the brain that includes pus, microorganisms that are causing the infection, and cells from the immune system. It is sometimes called a brain abscess. If you develop this problem, you will need emergency treatment.

Facts about cerebral abscess

A cerebral abscess usually occurs when bacteria or fungi make their way into the brain, either through the bloodstream or from an infected area in the head, such as the ears or sinuses. An injury to the head or head surgery can also let in germs that can cause an abscess.

Some people have a higher risk of developing this problem, including anyone with heart defects, people with AIDS or other conditions that affect the immune system, or people using medicines that inhibit the immune system.

An abscess can cause the brain to swell, putting harmful pressure on brain tissue. An abscess can also keep blood from flowing to parts of the brain.


A cerebral abscess can cause many symptoms, including:

  • Headaches

  • Fevers and chills

  • Disturbed consciousness

  • Visual disturbances

  • Weakness on one side of the body

  • Vomiting

  • Seizures

  • Changes in personality

  • Confusion

  • Trouble moving or speaking

  • Stiffness in the neck or back


Doctors may do a number of tests to diagnose a cerebral abscess:

  • MRI or CT scan of the head 

  • Blood tests to look for signs of germs and other signs of infection

  • Sample from the abscess for testing


Doctors treat cerebral abscesses with medicines including antibiotics or drugs to fight a fungal infection. You may also be given steroid drugs to lower pressure in the brain or drugs to reduce seizures.

Surgery may be necessary, especially for larger abscesses. The surgeon will go through the skull to expose the brain. Material in the abscess will be drained and, if possible, the entire abscess will be removed. If it's deep in the brain, the surgeon may need to drain it with a needle with help from a CT or MRI scan to direct the needle to the right area.


If you have an infection elsewhere in your body, making sure it's properly treated may help prevent a cerebral abscess. If your doctor has suggested that you take antibiotics before certain procedures, such as dental work, be sure to follow these directions.

Cerebral Abscess - WellSpan Health

Author: Metcalf, Eric
Online Medical Reviewer: Marcellin, Lindsey, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Petersen, Sheralee, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2012-06-17T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2012-06-18T00:00:00
Published Date: 2012-06-18T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2011-02-10T00:00:00
© 2015 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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