Need something? Call us: 1.800.4BAYLOR(1.800.422.9567)
Text Size:

When Your Child Has a Brain Abscess

A brain abscess is an infection in the brain caused by bacteria or fungus. In response to the infection, the body forms a sac around the affected area. A brain abscess can press on the brain, damage tissue, or block blood vessels in the brain. It is a serious and life-threatening condition that must be treated right away. With treatment, some children can recover with minimal or no complications, although the clinical outcomes can vary. 

Outline of child's head turned to side showing head and brain. Abscess is in front part of brain.
A brain abscess can damage brain tissue or block vessels in the brain and must be treated right away.

What Are the Causes of a Brain Abscess?

Your child may have developed a brain abscess in one of the following ways:

  • Bacteria or fungus may have traveled through the bloodstream to the brain from another area of infection in the body.

  • Bacteria or fungus may have entered the brain directly through a wound such as a head injury or surgery.

What Are the Symptoms of a Brain Abscess?

Symptoms for a brain abscess can come on slowly or suddenly. They can include:

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Stiff neck

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Seizures or convulsions

  • Trouble with vision (including sensitivity to light), speech, balance, or movement

How Is a Brain Abscess Diagnosed?

Your child will likely see a pediatric neurologist for diagnosis and treatment. The doctor examines your child. He or she also asks about your child’s health history and symptoms. An infectious disease specialist may also be needed. The following may then be done:

  • Neurologic exam to check how well your child’s nervous system is working. During the exam, the doctor checks your child’s muscle strength, balance, coordination, and reflexes. He or she may also check skills such as thinking, memory, vision, hearing, and talking.

  • MRI or CT scan to provide detailed pictures of the brain. These help the doctor determine the size and location of the brain abscess. Fluid called contrast dye may be used to make the brain abscess easier to see. Medication can be given to help your child stay calm and lie still during the tests.

  • Spinal tap (also called a lumbar puncture) to check the health of the fluid around the brain and spinal cord. This fluid is called cerebrospinal fluid. During the test, the low back is numbed. Then a needle is inserted into the spinal canal and a sample of the fluid is taken. It is taken to a lab and checked for signs of bacteria or fungus. This is essential to diagnose the exact cause of your child's brain abscess and to deteermine the appropriate therapy for your child.

How Is a Brain Abscess Treated?

  • Hospital care is needed right away for a brain abscess. Your child is carefully monitored until symptoms improve.

  • Treatment consists of medications delivered through an IV (intravenous) line, or in severe cases directly into the brain. Medications can include antibiotics or antifungal medications.

  • Your child’s doctor will speak with you about other forms of treatment, such as surgery, if they are needed.

  • The overall treatment time will vary for each child. In some cases, treatment can even be completed at home.

What Are the Long-Term Concerns?

After treatment, many children recover completely. Some children will have ongoing neurologic problems such as trouble with speech or movement or even seizures. Regular follow-up with the doctor may be recommended depending on your child’s condition. Supportive care, such as speech, physical, or occupational therapy, may be prescribed to help your child recover.

Online Medical Reviewer: Erlich, Kimberly, RN, MSN, MPH, CPNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Foo, Ida C, PNP, MSN, MPH
Last Review Date: 11/17/2008
© 2000-2014 Krames StayWell, 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.