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Abscess
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Abscess

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An abscess is a collection of pus in any part of the body that, in most cases, causes swelling and inflammation around it.

Abscesses occur when an area of tissue becomes infected and the body's immune system tries to fight it. White blood cells move through the walls of the blood vessels into the area of the infection and collect in the damaged tissue. During this process, pus forms. Pus is the buildup of fluid, living and dead white blood cells, dead tissue, and bacteria or other foreign substances.

Abscesses can form in almost any part of the body. The skin, under the skin, and the teeth are the most common sites. Abscesses may be caused by bacteria, parasites, and foreign substances.

Abscesses in the skin are easy to see. They are red, raised, and painful. Abscesses in other areas of the body may not be seen, but they may cause organ damage.

Types of abscesses include:

  • Abdominal abscess
  • Amebic liver abscess
  • Anorectal abscess
  • Bartholin abscess
  • Brain abscess
  • Epidural abscess
  • Peritonsillar abscess
  • Pyogenic liver abscess
  • Skin abscess
  • Spinal cord abscess
  • Subcutaneous abscess
  • Tooth abscess

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • Causes

    Abscesses occur when an area of tissue becomes infected and the body's immune system tries to fight it. White blood cells move through the walls of the blood vessels into the area of the infection and collect in the damaged tissue. During this process, pus forms. Pus is the buildup of fluid, living and dead white blood cells, dead tissue, and bacteria or other foreign substances.

    Abscesses can form in almost any part of the body. The skin, under the skin, and the teeth are the most common sites. Abscesses may be caused by bacteria, parasites, and foreign substances.

    Abscesses in the skin are easy to see. They are red, raised, and painful. Abscesses in other areas of the body may not be seen, but they may cause organ damage.

    Types of abscesses include:

    • Abdominal abscess
    • Amebic liver abscess
    • Anorectal abscess
    • Bartholin abscess
    • Brain abscess
    • Epidural abscess
    • Peritonsillar abscess
    • Pyogenic liver abscess
    • Skin abscess
    • Spinal cord abscess
    • Subcutaneous abscess
    • Tooth abscess
  • Exams and Tests

    Often, a sample of fluid will be taken from the abscess and tested to see what type of germ is causing the problem.

  • Treatment

    Treatment varies, but often surgery to drain the abscess, antibiotics, or both are needed.

  • When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if you think that you have any type of abscess.

  • Prevention

    Preventing abscesses depends on where they develop. For example, good hygiene can help prevent skin abscesses. Dental hygiene and routine care will prevent tooth abscesses.

Related Information

  Amebic liver absce...Anorectal abscess...Bartholin cyst or ...Brain abscessEpidural abscess...Peritonsillar absc...Pyogenic liver abs...Skin abscessSpinal cord absces...Tooth abscess     Periodontal diseas...

References

Holtzman LC, Hitti E, Harrow J. Incision and drainage. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2013:chap 37.

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Review Date: 8/31/2014  

Reviewed By: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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