Brain abscess causes

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Ogheneochuko Ajari, MB.BS, MS [2]


The majority of cases of brain abscess are due to infections with either bacteria or fungi. Common causes of brain abscess include Cryptococcus neoformans, Staphylococcus aureus, Toxoplasma gondii, and Viridans streptococci.


Brain abscesses commonly occur when bacteria or fungi infect part of the brain. The source of the infection, however, is often not found. The germs that cause a brain abscess usually reach the brain through the blood. Germs may also travel from a nearby infected area (such as an ear infection), can enter the body during an injury (from a gun or knife wound), or result from surgery. Though not as often, a heart infection can also be a cause of brain abscesses.[1][2]

Common Causes

Causes by Organ System

Cardiovascular Atrial septal defect, bacterial endocarditis, cyanotic congenital heart disease, Ebstein's anomaly of the tricuspid valve, endocarditis, infective endocarditis, prosthetic heart valve, pulmonary arteriovenous malformation, ventricular septal defect
Chemical/Poisoning No underlying causes
Dental Dental braces, dental extraction, dental sepsis, tooth infection
Dermatologic Hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome
Drug Side Effect Chronic steroid use, intravenous drug use
Ear Nose Throat Cholesteatoma, ear infection, hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, mastoiditis, Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome, sinusitis, suppurative otitis media
Endocrine No underlying causes
Environmental No underlying causes
Gastroenterologic Amebic dysentery, cystic fibrosis, intra-abdominal infection
Genetic Cystic fibrosis, hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia, Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome
Hematologic No underlying causes
Iatrogenic Esophageal dilatation, neurosurgery, organ transplant, ventriculoperitoneal shunt
Infectious Disease Actinobacillus actinomycetemcomitans, actinomyces, actinomycosis, aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, amebic dysentery, amoebiasis, anaerobic bacteria, aspergillosis, aspergillus, bacterial endocarditis, bacterial meningitis, bacteroides, candida albicans, Chagas disease, cladosporium trichoides, clostridium, coccidioides immitis, congenital listeriosis, corynebacterium, cryptococcus neoformans, curvularia, cysticercosis, empyema, endocarditis, entamoeba histolytica, enterobacter, enterobacteriaceae, enterococcus, erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, escherichia coli, fungi, fusobacterium, group B streptococcal infection, haemophilus aphrophilus, haemophilus, HIV, infective endocarditis, intra-abdominal infection, klebsiella pneumoniae, klebsiella, Lemierre's syndrome, listeria, listeriosis, lung abscess, mastoiditis, mucorales, mucormycosis, mycobacterium tuberculosis, mycoplasma hominis, nocardia, nocardiosis, opportunistic infections, orbital cellulitis, paragonimus, parasites, peptococcus, peptostreptococcus, prevotella, propionibacterium, proteus, pseudomonas, pyomyositis, rhodococcus equi, salmonella, scedosporium apiospermum, schistosoma japonicum, sinusitis, staphylococcus aureus, staphylococcus epidermidis, streptococcus milleri, streptococcus pneumoniae, streptococcus, suppurative otitis media, tooth infection, toxoplasma, upper respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infection, viridans streptococci, wound infections
Musculoskeletal/Orthopedic No underlying causes
Neurologic Bacterial meningitis, brain surgery, brain tumor, cholesterol granuloma, foreign body aspiration, hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia , neurological disorders related to AIDS, neurosurgery, Osler-Weber-Rendu syndrome, skull fracture, traumatic brain injury
Nutritional/Metabolic No underlying causes
Obstetric/Gynecologic No underlying causes
Oncologic Brain tumor, cholesterol granuloma, hematogenous spread, neoplasms
Ophthalmologic Orbital cellulitis
Overdose/Toxicity Chronic steroid use, drug abuse, intravenous drug abuse
Psychiatric No underlying causes
Pulmonary Bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis, empyema, foreign body aspiration, lung abscess, mycobacterium tuberculosis, upper respiratory tract infections
Renal/Electrolyte Urinary tract infection
Rheumatology/Immunology/Allergy Immunodeficiency
Sexual No underlying causes
Trauma Head trauma, penetrating head trauma, puncture wound to brain, skull fracture, traumatic brain injury
Urologic Urinary tract infection
Miscellaneous Alcoholism, near drowning, ventriculoperitoneal shunt


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  1. Tunkel AR. Brain abscess. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds.Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases
  2. Tunkel AR, Scheld WM. Brain abscess. In: Winn HR, ed.Youman's Neurological Surgery
  3. Saghrouni F, Ben Youssef Y, Gheith S, Bouabid Z, Ben Abdeljelil J, Khammari I; et al. (2011). "Twenty-nine cases of invasive aspergillosis in neutropenic patients". Med Mal Infect. 41 (12): 657–62. doi:10.1016/j.medmal.2011.09.011. PMID 22036518.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Wu PC, Tu MS, Lin PH, Chen YS, Tsai HC (2014). "Prevotella brain abscesses and stroke following dental extraction in a young patient: a case report and review of the literature". Intern Med. 53 (16): 1881–7. PMID 25130130.
  5. Clifton TC, Kalamchi S (2012). "A case of odontogenic brain abscess arising from covert dental sepsis". Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 94 (1): e41–3. doi:10.1308/003588412X13171221499667. PMC 3954226. PMID 22524927.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Sveinsson OA, Asgeirsson H, Olafsson IH (2013). "[Brain abscess - overview]". Laeknabladid. 99 (1): 25–31. PMID 23341403.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Patel K, Clifford DB (2014). "Bacterial brain abscess". Neurohospitalist. 4 (4): 196–204. doi:10.1177/1941874414540684. PMC 4212419. PMID 25360205.
  8. Cano P, Horseman MA, Surani S (2010). "Rhinocerebral mucormycosis complicated by bacterial brain abscess". Am J Med Sci. 340 (6): 507–10. doi:10.1097/MAJ.0b013e3181f0aad1. PMID 20861715.
  9. Mays R, Gordon R, Wilson JM, LaPolla WJ, Sra KK, Madkan V; et al. (2012). "Persistent erythematous plaque after minor trauma in an immunocompromised woman". Dermatol Online J. 18 (4): 2. PMID 22559017.

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