• Clinical science

Brain abscess


A brain abscess is a focal, suppurative lesion that may occur in one or more regions of the brain. It may be caused by the direct spread of sinus, ear, and/or dental infections, inoculation of pathogens following open skull fractures, and/or hematogenous spread from infective foci. During the course of the disease, the infected brain tissue softens and is subsequently encapsulated by granulation tissue. Clinical manifestations include headache, fever, neurological deficits, seizures, nausea, vomiting, and other features of raised intracranial pressure. Given these clinical findings, the main differential diagnosis is primary or metastatic brain tumor. Contrast CT reveals an intraparenchymal lesion with a hypodense center and peripheral ring enhancement. Treatment of brain abscesses involves surgical drainage of the abscess followed by systemic antibiotic therapy.




  • Entry of pathogens via contiguous spread, direct inoculation, or hematogenous spread
    • Early cerebritis: infiltration of neutrophils (occurs during the first 3–5 days) and cerebral edema
    • → Late cerebritis (after 2–3 weeks): necrosis, liquefaction, and infiltration of macrophages
    • → Eventually forms a fibrotic capsule around the lesion


Clinical features

Clinical features depend on the size and location of the lesion.



  • Laboratory tests
  • CT/MRI: : intraparenchymal lesions with a central hypodense (necrotic) area and peripheral ring enhancement
  • Biopsy (and drainage): microscopic examination and culture


Differential diagnoses

Other intracranial lesions with ring enhancement:

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.




  • If treated early: high survival rates and low rates of residual neurological sequelae
  • Multiple, deep, ruptured; , or inadequately treated abscesses have a poor prognosis.


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last updated 07/06/2020
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