Liver abscesses

Hepatic abscesses

Liver abscesses are pus-filled sacs containing blood, dead cells and germs that develop after infections in the body

About

An abscess contains pus, a thick fluid of white blood cells, dead tissue and bacteria. Liver abscesses may be caused by a bacterial infection associated with malignancy, surgery, trauma or other diseases, such as diabetes. They may also result from parasitic or fungal organisms. In developed countries, pyogenic liver abscesses are the most common.

Need to know

  • Symptoms of liver abscesses icon plus

    The inflammation and swelling that indicates a liver abscess may cause pain on the right upper part of your abdomen. This could impact your breathing too, sometimes causing a dry cough and pain when you take a deep breath in.

    As a liver abscess is often caused by bacterial infection, you may also notice symptoms including:

    • fever with night sweats and shaking chills
    • feeling unwell
    • loss of appetite and even anorexia
    • weight loss
    • nausea and vomiting
    • jaundice, although usually at a later stage
     
  • Diagnosis icon plus

    To confirm a diagnosis of liver abscess, your consultant may recommend blood tests and an analysis of small amounts of fluid from inside the abscess, taken out using ultrasound guidance. CT or MRI scanning may also be used in combination.
  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    An untreated liver abscess, like an abscess anywhere in the body, can cause further complications.

    The first course of action in treating liver abscesses is usually with antibiotics. These may be administered intravenously and often require hospitalisation. Treatment courses usually run for many weeks and repeat scanning may be required to confirm improvement of the abscess.

    If antibiotics alone are not effective then your consultant may recommend drainage of the abscess. This is often done using a catheter, guided by either ultrasound or CT imaging.

    In more extreme cases, for instance where the abscess has ruptured, open surgery may be needed.

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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