A collection of pus in a cavity formed by the breakdown of surrounding tissues due to injury or infection. It is surrounded by a red and swollen area. Abscesses usually are caused by specific bacteria that invade the tissues and may occur under the skin, in the joints, in glands, or in important organs such as the liver, brain, lung, or spine. Abscesses are especially likely to form following an infection in a pre-existing space or cavity, such as the lungs, Fallopian tubes, or anus.
Symptoms and diagnosis
In skin abscesses, the area grows red and swollen from the infusion of blood to the local and from the accumulation of pus formed by the white blood cells and the dead bacteria. Pain may be intense from the pressure of the swelling on the surrounding nerves. Fever and fatigue are frequent. Depending on the location and the infecting organism, the abscess may subside entirely, it may gradually become surrounded by a capsule and persist quietly in its primary location, or it may rupture and drain through the skin or into adjacent tissues of the body.
Dangers of Abscess
If the encapsulated abscess lies deep within the body, there is the danger of the formation of a fistula (a passage into neighboring tissues) or of persistent draining sinuses—openings to the outside of the body. In time, the abscess comes to a head or ripens; it may rupture spontaneously and the pus and fluids escape, bringing relief of swelling and pain. However, it is usually preferable for a physician to lance or open the abscess surgically to ensure complete drainage, to remove any fistular tubes that may have developed, and to avoid the possibility of its rupturing internally The physician’s care is especially necessary for abscesses that form on internal parts—in the chest or abdomen, in joints or glands—for inadequate treatment can,lead to a septicemia, a very grave general infection of the blood.
Treatment of Abscess
The abscess generally should not be opened until it has matured, as manipulation before this time sometimes fails to relieve the problem and risks spread of infection. For abscesses on the surface of the body, the application of heat early in abscess formation eases pain and sometimes halts inflammation before the dead tissue is formed later, heat apparently aids the infection to come to a head. Elevation of the infected part also relieves pain.
Although antibiotics administered early may prevent the suppuration of an abscess, or prevent its spread, these measures are no substitute for surgical incision in an existing abscess. An antibiotic may halt multiplication of bacteria, but debris already present cannot be carried away from an abscess except by proper drainage provided surgically. The infection may remain dormant and flare up again later, more resistant, out of reach, or systemically.
The use of drugs alone in a situation requiring drainage is one of the most common serious errors in treating infections. The presence of an abscess deep within the body may be indicated by the fever that comes and goes, fatigue, anemia, and a high white blood cell count. X-ray examinations sometimes help to locate an abscess hidden in an internal structure.