Hepatic abscess: Diagnosis and management

J Visc Surg. 2015 Sep;152(4):231-43. doi: 10.1016/j.jviscsurg.2015.01.013. Epub 2015 Mar 12.


Microbial contamination of the liver parenchyma leading to hepatic abscess (HA) can occur via the bile ducts or vessels (arterial or portal) or directly, by contiguity. Infection is usually bacterial, sometimes parasitic, or very rarely fungal. In the Western world, bacterial (pyogenic) HA is most prevalent; the mortality is high approaching 15%, due mostly to patient debilitation and persistence of the underlying cause. In South-East Asia and Africa, amebic infection is the most frequent cause. The etiologies of HA are multiple including lithiasic biliary disease (cholecystitis, cholangitis), intra-abdominal collections (appendicitis, sigmoid diverticulitis, Crohn's disease), and bile duct ischemia secondary to pancreatoduodenectomy, liver transplantation, interventional techniques (radio-frequency ablation, intra-arterial chemo-embolization), and/or liver trauma. More rarely, HA occurs in the wake of septicemia either on healthy or preexisting liver diseases (biliary cysts, hydatid cyst, cystic or necrotic metastases). The incidence of HA secondary to Klebsiella pneumoniae is increasing and can give rise to other distant septic metastases. The diagnosis of HA depends mainly on imaging (sonography and/or CT scan), with confirmation by needle aspiration for bacteriology studies. The therapeutic strategy consists of bactericidal antibiotics, adapted to the germs, sometimes in combination with percutaneous or surgical drainage, and control of the primary source. The presence of bile in the aspirate or drainage fluid attests to communication with the biliary tree and calls for biliary MRI looking for obstruction. When faced with HA, the attending physician should seek advice from a multi-specialty team including an interventional radiologist, a hepatobiliary surgeon and an infectious disease specialist. This should help to determine the origin and mechanisms responsible for the abscess, and to then propose the best appropriate treatment. The presence of chronic enteric biliary contamination (i.e., sphincterotomy, bilio-enterostomy) should be determined before performing radio-frequency ablation and/or chemo-embolization; substantial stenosis of the celiac trunk should be detected before performing pancreatoduodenectomy to help avoid iatrogenic HA.

Keywords: Classification; Diagnosis; Etiology; Hepatic abscess; Management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Catheter Ablation
  • Chemoembolization, Therapeutic
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Drainage
  • Humans
  • Liver Abscess* / diagnosis
  • Liver Abscess* / etiology
  • Liver Abscess* / therapy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents