Pyogenic brain abscess and subdural empyema: presentation, management, and factors predicting outcome

Infection. 2018 Dec;46(6):785-792. doi: 10.1007/s15010-018-1182-9. Epub 2018 Jul 27.


Purpose: To describe the presentation and management of bacterial brain abscess and subdural empyema in adults treated at two tertiary centers. In addition, to identify factors that may predict a poor clinical outcome.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of data obtained from clinical records was performed, followed by multivariate regression analysis of patient and treatment-related factors.

Results: 113 patients were included with a median age of 53 years and a male preponderance. At presentation symptoms were variable, 28% had a focal neurological deficit, and 39% had a reduced Glasgow coma scale (GCS). Brain abscesses most frequently affected the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes while 36% had a subdural empyema. An underlying cause was identified in 76%; a contiguous ear or sinus infection (43%), recent surgery or trauma (18%) and haematogenous spread (15%). A microbiological diagnosis was confirmed in 86%, with streptococci, staphylococci, and anaerobes most frequently isolated. Treatment involved complex, prolonged antibiotic therapy (> 6 weeks in 84%) combined with neurosurgical drainage (91%) and source control surgery (34%). Mortality was 5% with 31% suffering long-term disability and 64% achieving a good clinical outcome. A reduced GCS, focal neurological deficit, and seizures at presentation were independently associated with an unfavorable clinical outcome (death or disability).

Conclusions: Complex surgical and antimicrobial treatment achieves a good outcome in the majority of patients with bacterial brain abscess and subdural empyema. Factors present at diagnosis can help to predict those likely to suffer adverse outcomes. Research to determine optimal surgical and antibiotic management would be valuable.

Keywords: Antibiotics; Brain abscess; Neurosurgery; Outcomes; Subdural empyema.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Brain Abscess / diagnosis*
  • Brain Abscess / microbiology
  • Brain Abscess / therapy*
  • Empyema, Subdural / diagnosis*
  • Empyema, Subdural / microbiology
  • Empyema, Subdural / therapy*
  • England
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tertiary Care Centers / statistics & numerical data
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult