A brain abscess is a serious condition that requires hospitalization. It happens as the result of an infection in one place in the brain.

The signs and symptoms vary, depending on where in the brain the abscess is located. Symptoms may develop rapidly or slowly, as the abscess swells and takes up more space.

As it presses on the surrounding brain, it can cause neurologic brain tissue damage.

A headache and altered mental state can be signs of a brain abscess.Share on Pinterest
A headache and altered mental state can be signs of a brain abscess.

The most common signs and symptoms include a headache and changes in mental status.

A person who has changes in mental status may experience:

  • confusion
  • drowsiness and lethargy
  • irritability
  • poor mental focus
  • poor responsiveness
  • slow thought processes
  • muscle weakness
  • weakness, paralysis on one side of the body
  • speech problems, for example, slurred speech
  • poor coordination
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever and chills
  • fits, or seizures
  • a stiff neck, back or shoulders
  • blurred, double or graying vision if the abscess presses on the optic nerve
  • headache
  • seizures

Three in every 4 people with a brain abscess will experience only a dull headache, normally in the area where the abscess is located.

A low-grade fever will affect around half of the people with a brain abscess, but this may disappear as the condition progresses.

Tests may show a high level of white blood cells.

If a person has a headache that does not respond to over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication and continues to get worse, this may be a sign of a brain abscess.

Anyone who has symptoms that suggest a problem with the brain or the neurological system needs emergency medical help. A brain abscess can be fatal.