Symptoms of a brain abscess 

The symptoms of a brain abscess can develop quickly or slowly.

In around two-thirds of people, symptoms are present for two weeks or less before they escalate to the point where the person needs to be admitted to hospital.

Common symptoms include:

  • headache  the headache is often severe, located in a single section of the head and cannot be relieved with painkillers
  • changes in mental state – such as confusion or irritability
  • problems with nerve function – such as muscle weakness, slurred speech or paralysis on one side of the body
  • a high temperature (fever) of or above 38C (100.4F) 
  • seizures (fits)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • stiff neck
  • changes in vision – such as blurring, greying of vision or double vision (due to the abscess putting pressure on the optic nerve)

When to seek medical advice

Any symptoms that suggest a problem with the brain and nervous system should be treated as a medical emergency. These include:

  • slurred speech
  • muscle weakness or paralysis
  • seizures occurring in a person who had no previous history of seizures

If you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms, phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Any symptoms that suggest a worsening infection, such as fever and vomiting, should be reported to your GP immediately. If your GP is not available, contact your local out-of-hours service or call NHS 111.

Page last reviewed: 20/06/2014

Next review due: 20/06/2016