Understanding Liver Abscess

By Yang, Sue 
March 21, 2017

Understanding Liver Abscess

Outline of man showing digestive tract and liver.

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. In many cases, treatment begins 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


March 21, 2017


Diagnosis and Management of Complicated Intra-abdominal Infection in Adults and Children: Guidelines by the Surgical Infection Society and the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Clinical Infectious Diseases 2010;50:133-64., Ferri F. Liver Abcess. In: Ferri F, editor. Ferri's Clinical Advisor. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2016. p. 12-3., Herrera JL, et al. Liver Abscess. In: McNally P, et al, editors. GI/Liver Secrets Plus. 5 ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2015. p. 237-42., Kaldas FM, et al. The Management of Hepatic Abscess. In: Cameron JL, et al, editors. Current Surgical Therapy. 11 ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2014. p. 341-6., Sifri CD, et al. Infections of the Liver and Biliary System. In: Mandell D, et al, editors. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8 ed. Philadelphia: Saunders; 2015. p. 960-8.

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Images Reviewed by Staywell medical art team.,Lehrer, Jennifer K, MD,Ziegler, Olivia, MS, PA