What is an abscess?

An abscess is a collection of pus surrounded by a wall of tissue. An abscess happens when your body tries to control infection. It causes a painful lump and can make you feel unwell (see figure 1).

You can get an abscess anywhere in your body.

What are the benefits of surgery?

You should no longer have the abscess. Surgery should prevent the serious complications that an abscess can cause.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

If an abscess is small, antibiotics may work. Sometimes draining the pus with a needle can help.

What does the operation involve?

A small abscess can be drained under a local anaesthetic but most need a general anaesthetic. The operation usually takes 10 to 20 minutes.

Your surgeon will make a cut on your skin over the abscess. Once the pus has been removed, the cavity needs to heal upwards from its floor so the opening in your skin is left open. If the cavity is deep, your surgeon will place an antiseptic dressing in it.

What complications can happen?

1 General complications

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Unsightly scarring
  • Blood clots

2 Specific complications

  • The abscess keeps coming back

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home the same day or the day after.

Your doctor will tell you when you can return to work.

Most people make a full recovery and can return to normal activities.

Summary

An abscess is a collection of pus that can make you feel unwell. Surgery should prevent the serious complications that an abscess can cause.

Acknowledgements

Author: Mr Ayan Banerjea FRCS (Gen. Surg.) and Prof Simon Parsons DM FRCS (Gen. Surg.)

Illustrations: Medical Illustration Copyright © Medical-Artist.com


This document is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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