A brain abscess is an encapsulated area of dead cells, pus, infected tissue, and other material caused by the presence of an infection in the brain. The abscess causes intercranial pressure to rise, putting pressure on the brain and leading to very severe complications. If left untreated, brain abscesses are generally fatal. For patients in whom the condition is caught early, the prognosis can be quite good, especially if treatment is aggressive and rapid.
In some cases, the abscess is caused by an infection in or around the brain, such as a sinus or ear infection. A brain abscess can also occur when an infection spreads from another part of the body. Head trauma is another cause, in which case the source of the infection is introduced directly to the brain. Both bacteria and fungi can be involved in a brain abscess. Patients can also experience multiple small abscesses, which can complicate treatment considerably.
In a patient with a brain abscess, symptoms such as headache, fever, obvious swelling, seizures, confusion, vomiting, and nausea can all emerge. The brain abscess can be diagnosed with the use of medical imaging studies, which will reveal changes in the appearance of the brain and in the level of cerebrospinal fluid in the skull. Lumbar punctures, also known as spinal taps, are usually not recommended because they can disturb the fluid balance in the brain, causing the abscess to spread or rupture, but other methods such as bloodwork can be used to look for infection.
Once a brain abscess is diagnosed, there are several treatment options. If the pressure inside the skull is climbing dangerously quickly, it may be require a surgery to drain and clean the abscessed area, and a shunt may be inserted to allow the infection to drain until it is completely healed. In other cases, it may be possible to treat the infected area with antibiotics or antifungals to eliminate the infection, along with diuretics to treat the swelling associated with abscess.
When people experience neurological symptoms such as confusion, memory loss, an unsteady gait, tremors, headaches, or slurred speech, they should seek medical attention from a neurologist. These symptoms almost always indicate the need for immediate medical attention at an emergency facility. If the conditions are associated with an emerging condition in the brain like a stroke, abscess, or aneurysm, rapid treatment is usually vitally important, and survival rates can go down dramatically the longer the patient is left without treatment.