What is a brain abscess?
An abscess is a collection of pus, organisms and other substances that infects an organ. There are two kinds, the external (e.g. on the skin) and internal (deeper within the body). Internal infections are more challenging to cure and diagnose since they cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Internal can mean the liver, kidneys, and even the brain. A brain abscess is the most potentially dangerous of all such infections. When treatment is delayed, recovery is prolonged and complications are more like to occur. So if you have any worries after reading this article, seek immediate medical help.
What causes brain abscesses to form?
This problem can develop due to any of the following reasons:
- Infection – caused by organisms like fungi, viruses and bacteria. An infection can start in the nose (such as sinusitis) or the mouth (e.g. a gum infection), and then spread in the ear and into the brain. However, infections in further afield organs (like a lung) can also reach the brain. People with low immune systems due to disease or drug therapy are more at risk.
- Apart from organisms directly, a foreign body can also cause infection. Staple clips, small wires and other objects can cause irritation. This is because the materials in these items are not recognized by our body, which starts a response to try to eradicate them.
- Direct trauma – vehicular-related accidents, a fall, a hard blow to the skull are all forms of trauma. If the skull is compromised, the brain tissues are exposed. Microorganisms can enter the crack and cause infection.
How to spot a potential abscess on the brain?
The signs and symptoms of this disease include the following:
- Headache – there is a sensation of heaviness or increased pressure in the brain. A headache can lead on to other signs, including nausea, drowsiness and vomiting.
- Due to this infection, the function of the brain is altered. Fever and changes in mood might be observed (such as irritability, forgetfulness, confusion, lack of focus). Seizures can happen at any time (increased chance of happening during overwhelming situations).
- Stiffness of the neck can happen, including limitations in range of motion.
The signs and symptoms of an abscess can mimic other brain conditions. Diagnostic tests are performed in order to cross out other such problems. These tests will greatly aid the physician in his medications and interventions:
- CT (Computerized Tomography) scan – provides a detailed morphology (look) of the brain. Any growths are detected, including number, size and location. CT scan prints out horizontal and vertical slices of the brain, specifically targeting the area where any infections are.
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – to assess the structure of the brain. Can also be done in order to place guide wires in the area (acts a guide for drainage or aspiration).
- EEG (Electroencephalogram) – electrode patches are attached to the head to record the brain’s activity.
- Blood tests – CBC (complete blood count) is performed to check for the WBC (white blood cells) levels. Elevation above normal range means infection. Blood culture and sensitivity are done to determine the causative organism. Once detected, a sensitivity test will be done to know what medicines it reacts to.
- Lumbar tap – the patient will be asked to lie on the side in a fetal position. The doctor will obtain a lumbar fluid (lower spinal area). This fluid is sent to the laboratory for analysis. This is to check for the consistency, and presence of microorganisms in the lumbar fluid.
Brain Abscess Treatment
Medical treatment for such infections will include some of the folllowing:
- Antibiotic therapy – duration usually lasts for 4 to 6 weeks. At the beginning of the treatment course, intravenous antibiotics (medications given through the veins) may be administered. This is to kill the microorganisms and to stop their growth and multiplication. Antibiotics vary in kinds, dosage and length of therapy. This depends on the cause, patient’s condition and severity.
- Aspiration or drainage – through MRI, a guide wire can be placed in the area for aspiration.
- Surgical excision or craniotomy – done in the operating room under general anesthesia (the patient is asleep during the surgery). A hole is created in the skull, and the fluid is aspirated. Afterwards, a complete excision is done (the infection is surgically removed to totally eradicate it).
A brain abscess is a potentially life-threatening condition. Therefore, seeking emergency medical treatment is essential if you have any of the above symptoms. Brain abscesses are manageable if got to early enough. But the longer one is neglected, the higher the risk of brain damage and death.