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Symptoms of Brain or Spinal Abscesses

Symptoms of brain or spinal abscesses can be confusing. Some, such as headache and fever, are the same as many other conditions. The symptoms often depend on where the abscess is located.

If your child has a brain abscess, they may have some of these symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Stiff neck, shoulders or back
  • Neck, shoulder or back ache
  • Vomiting
  • Fever or chills
  • Sleepiness, confusion or other changes in thinking
  • Changes in vision
  • Problems talking
  • Problems with walking or other movements

Symptoms of a spinal abscess depend on the location of the abscess. In general, they include:

  • Weakness
  • Tingling, numbness or loss of feeling in any body part
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Unable to pass urine
  • Back or leg pain
  • Fever

Brain Abscess or Spinal Abscess Diagnosis

Your child's doctor will examine your child to find out if they have problems moving, feeling or thinking that might point to an abscess. In addition, several blood tests and imaging tests can help doctors find out the cause of problems.

If your child's doctor suspects a brain abscess, your child may have:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) to measure the number and size of red and white blood cells
  • Blood culture to test for bacteria in a sample of blood
  • CT (computed tomography) scan of the skull
  • MRI(magnetic resonance imaging) of the head
  • Chest X-ray
  • EEG (electroencephalogram) to find problems with electrical activity in the brain

If your child's doctor suspects a spinal abscess, your child may have:

  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • Sample of the abscess taken and tested for bacteria or fungi

Who Treats This at Seattle Children's?

Should your child see a doctor?

Find out by selecting your child’s symptom or health condition in the list below:

Spring 2014: Good Growing Newsletter

In This Issue

  • Cold Water Shock Can Quickly Cause Drowning
  • E-Cigs Are Addictive and Harmful
  • Bystanders Can Intervene to Stop Bullying

Download Spring 2014 (PDF)