An abscess is a localized collection of pus in any part of the body that is surrounded by swelling (inflammation).
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 within the damaged tissue. During this process, pus forms. Pus is the build up of fluid, living and dead white blood cells, dead tissue, and bacteria or other foreign substances.
Abscesses can form in almost every part of the body and may be caused by infectious organisms, parasites, and foreign substances. Abscesses in the skin can be easily seen, and are red, raised, and painful. Abscesses in other areas of the body may not be obvious, but if they may cause significant organ damage.
Specific type of abscesses:
Often, a sample of fluid will be taken from the abscess and tested to see what organism is causing the problem.
Call your health care provider if you think that you may have any type of abscess.
Treatment varies, but often requires antibiotics.
Prevention of abscesses depends on where they may develop. For example, good hygiene can help prevent skin abscesses. Dental hygiene and routine care will prevent dental abscesses.
Meislin HW, Guio JA. Soft tissue infections. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006:chap 135.
Guss DA. Liver and biliary tract. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006:chap 89.
Lavoie FW, Saucier JR. Central nervous system infections. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006:chap 107.
Singer JI, Gebhart ME. Sore throat. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2006:chap 31.
Review Date: 8/12/2008
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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