An abcess is a localized collection of pus in any part of the body, caused by an infection.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Abscesses occur when an area of tissue becomes infected and the body is able to “wall off” the infection to keep it from spreading. White blood cells, the body’s defense against some types of infection, migrate through the walls of the blood vessels into the area of the infection and collect within the damaged tissue. During this process “pus” forms, which is an accumulation of fluid, living and dead white blood cells, dead tissue, and bacteria or other foreign invaders or materials.
Abscesses can form in almost every part of the body and may be caused by infectious organisms, parasites, and foreign materials. Abscesses in the skin are readily visible and are red, raised, and painful. Abscesses in other areas of the body may not be obvious, but if they involve vital organs they may cause significant damage.
For information about a specific type of abscess see one of the following topics:
- Amebic liver abscess
- anorectal abscess
- Bartholin’s abscess
- brain abscess
- epidural abscess
- peritonsillar abscess
- Pyogenic liver abscess
- skin abscess
- Spinal cord abscess
- subcutaneous abscess
- Tooth abscess
See the individual types of abscesses.
Signs and tests
Often, a sample of fluid will be obtained from the abscess. It will be cultured to determine the organism causing the abscess. See the individual types of abscesses.
Treatment varies, but often requires antibiotics.
Most types are treatable. See the individual types of abscesses.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you think that you may have any type of abscess.
Prevention of abscesses is dependent on the location and cause. For example, good hygiene is important in prevention of skin abscesses. Dental hygiene and routine care will prevent dental abscesses.
by Sharon M. Smith, M.D.
All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.