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Five day old Abscess.jpg

What is an abscess?

An abscess is a collection of dead white blood cells and other tissue debris called pus.

Which locations do people get abscess(es)?

You can get an abscess almost anywhere in your body.

How does one get an abscess?

When an area of your body becomes infected, your body's immune system tries to fight the infection. White blood cells go to the infected area, collect within the damaged tissue, and cause inflammation. During this process, pus forms. Pus is a mixture of living and dead white blood cells, germs, and dead tissue.

Pyomyositis MRI
Pyomyositis MRI

Which organisms lead to abscess formation?

Bacteria, viruses, parasites and swallowed objects can all lead to abscesses.

Clinical signs and symptoms

Skin abscesses are easy to detect. They are red, raised and painful. The main symptoms and signs of a skin abscess are redness, heat, swelling, pain and loss of function. There may also be high temperature (fever) and chills.

Internal abscesses are more difficult to find. The abscess can be painful, and a person will have a high temperature, and generally feel unwell. Internal abscesses do not usually heal without medical treatment. In some cases an abscess could even cause death, for example where an abscess in the neck put pressure on the trachea.

Liver with purulent deposits
Liver with purulent deposits

Internal abscesses

Abscesses inside your body may not be obvious and can damage organs, including the brain, lungs and others. Treatments include drainage and antibiotics.

Tuberculous cold abscess with sinuses
Tuberculous cold abscess with sinuses


Treatment for most skin or soft tissue abscesses is to cut it open and drain out the pus.


Skin abscesses are common and have become more common in recent years. They are usually on the skin surface (such as a boils, or deep skin abscesses), in the lungs, brain, teeth, kidneys and tonsils. The condition can become more complicated if the pus and the infection spread to other parts of the body. This can lead to gangrene, where areas of body tissue die.

If abscess is on the surface, it may be "fluctuant", that is it feels like it is full of fluid, when touched.

Cold abscess

Abscesses caused by tuberculosis are called cold abscesses.

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