Brain, Nervous System and Mental Conditions

Brain Abscess or Spinal Abscess

What Is a Brain Abscess or Spinal Abscess?

An abscess is a collection of pus caused by an infection. In the central nervous system (CNS) , an abscess can be located:

  • In brain tissue or around the lining of the brain
  • In the outer covering of the spinal cord (the epidural space)
  • Inside the sac that contains the spinal cord
  • On the bones of the spine (vertebrae)

Brain abscesses usually are caused by bacteria or fungi that infect part of the brain. The infection causes the area to swell (inflammation). A membrane forms around the infected area. This can help protect your child's brain by limiting the infection to one area. But if the area continues to swell, it can cause harm by pressing on other brain tissues or blocking the flow of blood to parts of the brain.

Brain Abscess or Spinal Abscess in Children

Brain and spinal abscesses rarely develop in children.

When they do occur, brain abscesses are usually caused by bacteria from an ear, sinus, mouth or tooth infection. The bacteria travel to the brain through the blood. A brain abscess can also be caused by an infection in the central nervous system, such as meningitis . It may also happen to children who have cyanotic heart disease .

Like brain abscesses, spinal abscesses can be caused by infections in other parts of the body that spread through the blood.

Brain Abscess or Spinal Abscess at Seattle Children's

Children rarely get abscesses of the brain or spinal cord. When they do, doctors from the region Seattle Children's serves - Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho - refer their patients to our neurosurgery team.

Not all children who have brain or spinal abscesses need surgery. When they do, our neurosurgeons are experienced in procedures to treat both brain and spinal abscesses. Our neurosurgeons operate on five to 10 children a year who have brain or spinal abscesses.