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Brain abscess (or cerebral abscess) is an abscess caused by inflammation and collection of infected material coming from local (ear infection, infection of paranasal sinuses, infection of the mastoid air cells of the temporal bone, epidural abscess ) or remote (lung, heart, kidney etc.) infectious sources within the brain tissue. The infection may also be introduced through a skull fracture following a head trauma or surgical procedures. Brain abscess is usually associated with congenital heart disease in young children. It may occur at any age but is most frequent in the third decade of life.
Although the most common organism causing brain abscess is a bacteria named as Streptococcus, a wide variety of other bacteria (Proteus, Pseudomonas, Pneumococcus, Meningococcus, Haemophilus), fungi and parasites may also cause the disease. Fungi and parasites are especially associated with immunocompromised patients. Organisms that are most frequently associated with brain abscess in patients with AIDS are Toxoplasma gondii and Cryptococcus neoformans, though in infection with the latter organism, symptoms of meningitis generally predominate.
The symptoms of brain abscess are caused by a combination of increased intracranial pressure due to a space-occupying lesion (headache, vomiting, confusion, coma), infection (fever, fatigue etc.) and focal neurologic brain tissue damage (hemiparesis, aphasia etc.). The most frequent presenting symptoms are headache, drowsiness, confusion , seizures, hemiparesis or speech difficulties together with fever with a rapidly progressive course. The symptoms and findings depend largely on the specific location of the abscess in the brain. An abscess in the cerebellum, for instance, may cause additional complaints as a result of brain stem compression and hydrocephalus. Neurologic examination may reveal a stiff neck in occasional cases (erroneously suggesting meningitis). The famous triad of fever, headache and focal neurologic findings are highly suggestive of brain abscess but are observed only in a minority of the patients.
The diagnosis is established by a computed tomography (CT) (with contrast) examination. At the initial phase of the inflammation (which is referred to as cerebritis), the immature lesion does not have a capsule and it may be difficult to distinguish it from other space-occupying lessions or infarcts of the brain. Within 4-5 days the inflammation and the concomitant dead brain tissue are surrounded with a capsule, which gives the lesion the famous ring-enhancing appearance on CT examination with contrast (since intravenously applied contrast material can not pass through the capsule, it is collected around the lesion and looks as a ring surrounding the relatively dark lesion). Lumbar puncture procedure, which is performed in many infectious disorders of the central nervous system is contraindicated in this condition (as it is in all space-occupying lesions of the brain) because removing a certain portion of the cerebrospinal fluid may alter the concrete intracranial pressure balances and cause a part of the brain tissue to move out of the skull (brain herniation).
Ring enhancement may also be observed in cerebral hemorrhages (bleeding) and some brain tumors. However, in the presence of the rapidly progressive course with fever, focal neurologic findings (hemiparesis, aphasia etc) and signs of increased intracranial pressure, the most likely diagnosis should be the brain abscess.
The treatment includes lowering the increased intracranial pressure and starting intravenous antibiotics (and meanwhile identifying the causative organism mainly by blood culture studies). Surgical aspiration or removal of brain abscess are performed for patients that are resistant to medical treatments.
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