What is a brain abscess?
A brain abscess is an infection in your child's brain that stays within its own area.
This might be in one or more areas in the brain. This condition may cause problems
with how the brain and spinal cord function.
What causes a brain abscess?
The more common causes of a brain abscess in children are viruses, fungi, and bacteria.
But bacteria are the most common cause. Bacteria and viruses can infect the brain
in 3 ways:
Infection is spread from another area of infection in the body, usually from a nearby
site. Typically, this might be an ear infection, sinus infection, or dental infection.
Infection is spread through the bloodstream from the lung or chest area.
Viruses or bacteria enter the brain directly through a wound in the head.
Your child is more likely to develop a brain abscess if he or she has:
Heart disease that is present from birth (congenital)
Long-term (chronic) middle ear and sinus infections
Dental or jaw infections
Infections of the face or scalp
Head injury or skull fracture
Traction. This is a medical device that uses pins or screws placed around the head
to hold the head and neck areas still. It is used in a child who has a broken neck
or for surgeries that need the head and neck to stay still.
Shunt infections. Shunts are devices used to drain extra cerebral spinal fluid.
What are the symptoms of a brain abscess?
The following are the most common symptoms of a brain abscess. But symptoms may be
slightly different for each child.
In babies and younger children
In older children
Complaints of severe headaches
Nausea and vomiting
Changes in personality or behavior
Changes in speech
Increased movement in the arms or legs (spasticity)
The symptoms of a brain abscess may look like other health conditions. Make sure your
child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is a brain abscess diagnosed?
Your child's healthcare provider will look at your child's health history and family
health history. He or she will do a physical exam. The provider will measure around
your child's head and compare that number with a scale that can shows normal and abnormal
ranges. As the infection grows and becomes bigger, it can push on the brain. This
may cause increased pressure inside of the head. This pressure can cause symptoms
in your child.
Your child may also need tests. These may include:
X-ray. This test uses radiation to make pictures of your child's skull. A skull X-ray probably
won't show a brain abscess, but it can show fractures that might lead to an abscess.
MRI. This test uses large magnets, radio waves, and a computer to make detailed images
of organs and structures within the body. Your child may be given a contrast dye to
better see the abscess.
CT scan. This test uses X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. Your child
may be given a contrast dye to better see the abscess.
Urine and stool tests
Sputum culture. This test looks at material that is coughed up from the lungs and into the mouth.
This test is often done to find out if your child has an infection.
Lumbar puncture (spinal tap). This test uses a needle to help measure the pressure in the spinal canal and brain.
The healthcare provider can also remove a small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF)
to send for testing. CSF is the fluid that bathes your child's brain and spinal cord.
The fluid sample can help find out if your child has an infection or other problems.
It is important to find out what kind of infection may be causing the abscess, because
treatment differs depending on the cause. This test may not be done or may be delayed
if your child has brain swelling or a shift in the brain tissue.
Treatment for a brain abscess
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is.
The key to treating a brain abscess is finding and treating it early. A child with
a brain abscess needs to be put in the hospital right away. The healthcare provider
will give your child antibiotics and watch your child closely. Your child may need
The goal of treatment is to reduce the pressure in the head and to properly drain
the infection. Medicines are used to control the infection, seizures, fever, and other
conditions that may be present. Other organs may be affected by the brain abscess.
In severe cases, your child may need a breathing machine to help him or her breathe
As your child recovers, he or she may need physical, occupational, or speech therapy.
This will help your child regain muscle strength, speech skills, or both.
Your child's healthcare team will help you learn how to best care for your child at
home. They will tell you what problems to watch for that need medical attention right
away. Your child will need to see his or her healthcare provider often after treatment