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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Abscess

Last reviewed: September 2, 2012.

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

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

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:

Signs 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, antibiotics, or both are needed.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you think that you may 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.

References

  1. Bolognia J. Infections, hyper- and hypopigmentation, regional dermatology, and distinctive lesions in black skin. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011:chap 449.

Review Date: 9/2/2012.

Reviewed by: David C. Dugdale III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Treatment of an anal fistula at the same time as drainage of perianal abscess reduces the chances of recurrent abscess and repeat surgery.Treatment of an anal fistula at the same time as drainage of perianal abscess reduces the chances of recurrent abscess and repeat surgery.
      A perianal abscess produces severe pain at or near the back passage (anus) due to an infection with collection of pus (abscess). The treatment is an urgent operation to incise the skin near the anus and drain the pus which relieves the pain. Some patients with a perianal abscess have an associated tunnel called a fistula which connects the anus to the adjacent skin. A fistula can cause problems such as leakage (discharge) from the skin near the anus or may produce a recurrent abscess, and therefore usually requires a repeat operation for its treatment. For this reason it has been proposed that fistula treatment at the same time as drainage of a perianal abscess may be better for patients. This systematic review assesses randomised trials that have addressed the benefits and risks of combined treatment of perianal abscesses and fistulae. Six studies have been published on this topic. The analyses show that combined treatment reduces the risk of persistent abscess or fistula, or repeat surgery without a statistically significant increase in postoperative incontinence.
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