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Brain abscess


Traumatic brain abscess

Non Traumatic brain abscess

The most frequent intracranial locations (in descending order of frequency) are: frontal-temporal, frontal-parietal, parietal, cerebellar, and occipital lobes.


There are approximately 1500 to 2000 cases of brain abscess diagnosed in the United States annually, with an estimated 1 in 10,000 being hospitalized for a brain abscess. The infection tends to occur in young men, although infection can occur in all age groups; the male-to-female ratio varies between 2 : 1 and 3 : 1. In some series, children account for up to 25% of cases.

The epidemiology of brain abscess has changed with the increasing incidence of this infection in immunocompromised patients, particularly solid organ and bone marrow transplant recipients, and the decreasing incidence of brain abscess related to sinusitis and otitis 1).

There have been several trends in the epidemiology of brain abscess over recent decades. One trend is that there appears to be a trend toward a decreasing incidence of brain abscess. In a population-based study of residents of Olmstead County, Minnesota, the incidence rate was 1.3 per 100,000 patient-years from 1935 to 1944 compared with 0.9 per 100,000 patient-years from 1965 to 1981 2).


Brain abscess commonly occurs secondary to an adjacent infection (mostly in the middle ear or paranasal sinuses) or due to hematogenous spread from a distant infection or trauma.

Its important to consider pulmonary arteriovenous malformation as an etiology of cerebral abscess when routine investigations fail to detect a source 3).

Development of brain abscess after an infarction is a rare clinical condition. There have been 11 cases in the literature. Many patients were treated with potent antibiotics only and did not survive. Wang et al., present 2 cases in which patients received aggressive surgical resection of brain abscess and survived. The analysis of the literature confirmed this finding that surgical intervention of brain abscess in patients after stroke is advisable.

Secondary abscess formation after significant ischemic stroke is a rare condition that carries potential for high morbidity/mortality. The limited body of literature with the addition of our 2 cases supports aggressive management with surgical evacuation of brain abscess to increase survival. 4).

see Staphylococcus aureus brain abscess

Streptococcus pneumoniae accounts for <1% of pyogenic brain abscesses 5).

Risk Factors

TNFα (-308 G>A) and IL-1β (-511 C<T) polymorphisms that lead to increased production of TNF-α and IL-1β appear to be risk for development of brain abscess in North Indian population 6).

Until recently, post-radiotherapy brain abscess was considered rare, but it has become an increasingly important etiology. Discussions of the relationship between bacterial brain abscess and radiotherapy (RT) are rare in the literature. Further study based on a proper patient cohort is warranted 7).



Chronic sinusitis

Chronic otitis

Congenital cyanotic heart disease

Bacterial endocarditis


Dental procedures, streptococcus oral flora is frequent

Penetrating intracranial injury.

Pulmonary abnormalities

Intracerebral haemorrhage


Prior to 1980 brain abscesses classically result from contiguous spread (extension of nearby infection in the head, penetrating head injury, neurosurgery),direct trauma.

Now hematogenous spread is the most common vector.

However, up to 30% of brain abscesses have no such associations and thus are deemed cryptogenic brain abscess 8).

Generally occurring after septic episodes in immunodeficient patients or complicating neurosurgical procedures. Even though they are known complications of surgically treated intracerebral haemorrhages (ICH), the presence of a brain abscess at the site of an untreated ICH is a rare event.

Such cases may result from haematogenous spread from distant foci or contiguous sites and are often preceded by episodes of sepsis and local infection. Immunodeficiency, AIDS, age, diabetes mellitus and vitamin-K deficiency are predisposing factors.


Hematogenous spread

Multiple abscesses have been noted in 10 to 50% of these patients 9).

The chest is the most common origin, from a remote infectious source through right-to-left shunting 10). Lung abscess the most common

In patients with bronchiectasis and with new neurological manifestations, infected lesions in the central nervous system should be excluded.

In children congenital cyanotic heart disease, especially tetralogy of Fallot.

Right to left shunting (Pulmonary arteriovenous malformation).

Osler Weber Rendu syndrome

Bacterial endocarditis

Dental abscess

Infections of the abdomen – such as peritonitis (an infection of the bowel lining).

Pelvic infections – such as infection of the bladder lining (cystitis).

Septic embolism in areas of previous brain infarction or ischemia.

Fibrosis lung disease

Is an uncommon complication of severe cystic fibrosis lung disease 11).

Contiguous spread

Purulent sinusitis


Streptococcus is most common, up to 60 % are polymicrobial.

Clinical features

Similar to any other mass lesion but tend to progress rapidly.

Abscess formation should be considered in case of clinical deterioration, headache, and any neurological deficit after febrile episodes.


Specimens obtained during surgery or stereotactic computerized axial tomography (CT) guided aspiration should be sent for aerobic, anaerobic, mycobacterial and fungal culture and, when indicated, for protozoa.

Laboratory Studies

Routine laboratory studies are not helpful for the diagnosis of brain abscess. Leukocytosis may be absent; in some series about 40% of patients have a normal peripheral white blood cell count. Acute-phase reactants are moderately helpful but nonspecific. The C reactive protein level is elevated in almost all patients, but the sedimentation rate can be only moderately elevated and sometimes is normal. Samples for blood cultures should be obtained in all suspected cases; although the yield is low, a positive result can be extremely valuable.

CT scanning

CT scanning with contrast during stage 1 (early cerebritis) may show only edema—an area of hypodensity—which may or may not enhance with contrast. If done very early in the course of infection, a contrast-enhanced CT may be normal. During later stages, there is the development of a space-occupying lesion with a hypodense center and later a ring-enhancing rim, which is often surrounded by a large area of edema. Occasionally, ring enhancement can be seen with late cerebritis; delayed administration of contrast that fills in the central hypodensity is suggestive that the lesion is still in the cerebritis stage. Although contrast-enhanced CT scanning is considered sensitive for the detection of brain abscesses, it is not specific. Brain abscesses tend to have smooth thin-walled capsules, whereas tumors tend to have more irregular capsules. There are additional characteristics of brain tumors, but some overlap exists with brain abscesses. It is important to note that brain abscesses and brain tumors may have an identical appearance on the CT scan.

MR imaging

MR imaging is more sensitive than CT, and MRI can usually detect infection in the early cerebritis stage. The MRI scan in focal cerebritis usually shows an area of hypointensity on T1- and T2-weighted imaging. The characteristic appearance of a mature brain abscess on MRI is a focal lesion with low intensity on a T1-weighted image, with a smoothly marginated capsule that enhances with IV gadolinium.


On T2WI, the central abscess is hyperintense and the surrounding capsule is hypointense. There is extensive surrounding edema in most cases. The finding of a capsule that is hypointense on a T2-weighted image and mildly hyperintense on a T1-weighted image is suggestive of an abscess capsule.


The DWI shows often hyperintensity (restriction), (not reliable).

Diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI) is widely appreciated as an indispensable tool in the examination of the central nervous system. It is considered useful not only for the detection of acute ischemic stroke but also for the characterization and differentiation of brain tumors and brain abscess.

Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging

Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (PMRS) has high sensitivity and specificity for the detection of pyogenic brain abscess and the categorization of bacteria. But the metabolite patterns failed to evaluate the etiology of disease when the culture results are sterile.

Based on metabolite resonances, PMRS can detect slow growing and fastidious organisms and classify them into aerobic and anaerobic bacteria which are difficult to culture by conventional method. It can categorize microorganisms even in culture sterile samples with rational sensitivity and specificity which may allow early choice of targeted therapy 12).

Differential diagnosis

The differential of an established abscess is essentially that of a ring enhancing lesion, and therefore includes:

Metastasis or high grade glioma (e.g. GBM)

abscesses tend to have smoother inner wall

satellite lesions favour infection

abscesses may have low intensity capsule

rCBV elevated in high grade gliomas, reduced in abscesses

low intensity SWI rim of GBM

incomplete and irregular in 85%

within (rather than overlapping) the peripheral enhancement

absent dual rim sign

subacute infarction, haemorrhage or contusion


radiation necrosis

When a lesion demonstrates both ring enhancement and central restricted diffusion the differential is very much narrowed, and although cerebral abscess is by far the most likely diagnosis, the following should also be included on the differential diagnosis:

cerebral metastases

necrotic adenocarcinoma


Intraventricular rupture of brain abscess (IVROBA)

Strongly influences poor outcome in patients with cyanotic heart disease. The key to decreasing poor outcomes may be the prevention and management of IVROBA. To reduce operative and anesthetic risk in these patients, abscesses should be managed by less invasive aspiration methods guided by computed tomography. Abscesses larger than 2 cm in diameter, in deep-located or parieto-occipital regions, should be aspirated immediately and repeatedly, mainly using computed tomography-guided methods to decrease intracranial pressure and avoid IVROBA. IVROBA should be aggressively treated by aspiration methods for the abscess coupled with the appropriate intravenous and intrathecal administration of antibiotics while evaluating intracranial pressure pathophysiology 13).




There has been a gradual improvement in the outcome of patients with brain abscess over the past 50 years, which might be driven by improved brain imaging techniques, minimally invasive neurosurgical procedures, and protocoled antibiotic treatment. Multicenter prospective studies and randomized clinical trials are needed to further advance treatment and prognosis in brain abscess patients.

Our understanding of brain abscesses has increased by meta-analysis on clinical characteristics, ancillary investigations, and treatment modalities. Prognosis has improved over time, likely due to improved brain imaging techniques, minimally invasive neurosurgical procedures, and protocoled antibiotic treatment 14).

Current evidences suggest that for encapsulated brain abscess in superficial non-eloquent area, abscess resection compared to abscess aspiration had lower post-operative residual abscess rate; lower re-operation rate; higher rate of improvement in neurological status within 1 month after surgery, shorter duration of post-operative antibiotics and average length of hospital stay. There was no statistically significant difference in the rate of improvement in neurological status at 3 months post-operative and the mortality 15).

Case reports

Sudo et al., present the first case of neurogenic stuttering caused by a brain abscess. The patient was a 60-year-old man admitted for a seizure and administered an anticonvulsant, after which he began stuttering. MRI revealed a brain abscess in the left frontal lobe that extended to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (BA (Brodmann's area) 9 and 46), frontal eye field (BA 8) and premotor cortex and supplementary motor area (BA 6). After neurosurgical drainage and antibiotic treatment, the symptoms had resolved. This case is unique in that the therapeutic effects and localisation of the cause of stuttering were rapidly identified, allowing for a more accurate description of the neural circuitry related to stuttering 16).

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Nam TK, Park YS, Kwon JT. Brain Abscesses Associated with Asymptomatic Pulmonary Arteriovenous Fistulas. J Korean Neurosurg Soc. 2017 Jan 1;60(1):118-124. doi: 10.3340/jkns.2015.0707.023. PubMed PMID: 28061502.
Wang J, Fraser JF. An Intracranial Petri Dish? Formation of Abscess in Prior Large Stroke After Decompressive Hemicraniectomy. World Neurosurg. 2015 Nov;84(5):1495.e5-9. doi: 10.1016/j.wneu.2015.05.013. PubMed PMID: 25988538.
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Kawamata T, Takeshita M, Ishizuka N, Hori T. Patent foramen ovale as a possible risk factor for cryptogenic brain abscess: report of two cases. Neurosurgery 2001;49:204-206; discussion 206-207.
Fenton ME, Cockcroft DW, Gjevre JA. Intracerebral abscess: a complication of severe cystic fibrosis lung disease. Can Respir J. 2008 Jan-Feb;15(1):45-7. PubMed PMID: 18292854; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2677856.
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Brouwer MC, van de Beek D. Epidemiology, diagnosis, and treatment of brain abscesses. Curr Opin Infect Dis. 2016 Nov 8. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 27828809.
Zhai Y, Wei X, Chen R, Guo Z, Raj Singh R, Zhang Y. Surgical outcome of encapsulated brain abscess in superficial non-eloquent area: A systematic review. Br J Neurosurg. 2015 Nov 16:1-6. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 26569628.
Sudo D, Doutake Y, Yokota H, Watanabe E. Recovery of brain abscess-induced stuttering after neurosurgical intervention. BMJ Case Rep. 2018 May 12;2018. pii: bcr-2017-223259. doi: 10.1136/bcr-2017-223259. PubMed PMID: 29754132.
brain_abscess.txt · Last modified: 2018/05/14 12:59 by administrador