Understanding Liver Abscess

A liver abscess is a pocket of pus that forms in the liver. It must be treated right away to prevent serious problems.

How does a liver abscess happen?

A liver abscess most often occurs because of infection from germs such as bacteria, parasites, or fungi. The type of germ determines what type of liver abscess you have:

  • Bacteria cause a pyogenic liver abscess

  • Parasites cause an amebic liver abscess

  • Fungi cause a fungal liver abscess

The infection may have:

  • Spread to your liver from other structures in your belly (abdomen), such as the gallbladder, bile ducts, bowels, or appendix

  • Traveled in your bloodstream to your liver from more distant areas of the body

  • Happened after surgery or an injury to your liver

Symptoms of liver abscess

Symptoms of a liver abscess may take 2 to 4 weeks to appear. They may include:

  • Fever, chills, sweats

  • General discomfort or sick feeling

  • Pain in the upper right part of the belly

  • Weight loss

  • Nausea, vomiting, or both

  • Diarrhea, constipation, or both

  • Cough

  • Chest pain or shoulder pain

  • Yellowish eyes and skin (jaundice)

Treatment for liver abscess

Treatment depends on the type of liver abscess that you have. To find this out, your provider may put a needle through your skin into the abscess. A sample of pus will be removed and checked. Blood tests and cultures of the blood for infection are done. In many cases, treatment starts in the hospital and continues at home. Treatment may include:

  • Taking medicines, such as antibiotics. These may be given by an IV (intravenous) line placed in a vein in your arm or hand. Or you may take them by mouth. You may need the medicines for a few weeks or longer.

  • Draining the pus from the abscess. The doctor may do this using a needle or tube (catheter) put through your skin. In severe cases, the doctor may make a cut (incision) through your skin to reach your liver.

  • Having imaging tests. In many cases, your healthcare provider will order follow-up tests of your liver after treatment. This is often done by ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI.

Possible complications of liver abscess

These can include:

  • Burst (ruptured) abscess

  • Infection spreading into other parts of the body such as the belly, lungs, heart, brain, and eyes

  • Death

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Symptoms, such as fever or pain, that don’t get better with treatment or get worse

  • Yellowish skin or eyes (jaundice)

  • New symptoms, such as trouble breathing

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