Complications of a brain abscess 

Complications of a brain abscess can include recurrence, brain damage, severe meningitis and epilepsy (seizures).

Reoccurring brain abscesses

If you have a previous history of having a brain abscess, there is a small chance of another abscess forming. This is especially the case if you have underlying risk factors, such as a weakened immune system or cyanotic heart disease.

You should be alert for symptoms that a brain abscess can cause, such as a persistent severe headache.

Seek immediate medical advice if you think there is even a small chance an abscess has reoccurred.

Brain damage

Brain damage can range from mild through moderate to severe.

Mild brain damage can result in:

Moderate brain damage can result in:

  • changes in mood, such as feeling restless or agitated
  • problems with tasks that require high-level thinking, such as planning and decision making
  • difficulties with balance and coordination – the medical term for this is ataxia

Severe brain damage can result in:

  • weakness in certain parts of the body
  • coma or persistent vegetative state in the most serious of cases

Mild to moderate brain damage often improves with time. Severe brain damage is likely to be permanent.

Brain damage is more of a risk when the diagnosis of a brain abscess was delayed and treatment did not begin quickly enough. Brain abscesses can now be diagnosed very easily with a CT or MRI scan, so the risk of serious brain damage is now low.

Epilepsy

A common complication of brain abscesses is epilepsy  a condition that causes repeated fits or seizures. Epilepsy is a long-term condition and symptoms can usually be controlled using medication.

Read more about the treatment of epilepsy.

Meningitis

In some cases, especially those involving children, a brain abscess can develop into bacterial meningitis – a life-threatening infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain.

Symptoms of meningitis include:

  • severe headache
  • vomiting 
  • high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or over
  • stiff neck

Someone with bacterial meningitis will require urgent treatment in hospital, usually an intensive care unit (ICU).

Antibiotics will be used to treat the underlying infection. These will be given through a vein in the arm (intravenously).

At the same time, a person may also be given:

  • oxygen
  • intravenous fluids  through a vein
  • steroids or other medication to help reduce the swelling (inflammation) around the brain

Read more about the treatment of meningitis.  

Page last reviewed: 20/06/2014

Next review due: 20/06/2016