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Brain abscess - Complications of a brain abscess

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Possible complications of a brain abscess are outlined below.

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
  • and in the most serious of cases - coma or persistent vegetative state

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.


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.


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 38ºC (100.4ºF) 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 intravenously (through a vein in the arm).

At the same time a person may also be given:

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

Read more about the treatment of meningitis.  

Medical Review: June 19, 2012
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