Spontaneous empyema and brain abscess in an intensive care population: clinical presentation, microbiology, and factors associated with outcome

Acta Neurochirurgica (2023) 165:651–658

Data on critically ill patients with spontaneous empyema or brain abscess are limited. The aim was to evaluate clinical presentations, factors, and microbiological findings associated with the outcome in patients treated in a Neurocritical Care Unit.

Methods In this retrospective study, we analyzed 45 out of 101 screened patients with spontaneous epidural or subdural empyema and/or brain abscess treated at a tertiary care center between January 2012 and December 2019. Patients with postoperative infections or spinal abscess were excluded. Medical records were reviewed for baseline characteristics, origin of infection, laboratory and microbiology findings, and treatment characteristics. The outcome was determined using the Glasgow outcome scale extended (GOSE).

Results Favorable outcome (GOSE 5–8) was achieved in 38 of 45 patients (84%). Four patients died (9%), three remained severely disabled (7%). Unfavorable outcome was associated with a decreased level of consciousness at admission (Glasgow coma scale < 9) (43% versus 3%; p = 0.009), need of vasopressors (71% versus 11%; p = 0.002), sepsis (43% versus 8%; p = 0.013), higher age (65.1 ± 15.7 versus 46.9 ± 17.5 years; p = 0.014), shorter time between symptoms onset and ICU admission (5 ± 2.4 days versus 11.6 ± 16.8 days; p = 0.013), and higher median C-reactive protein (CRP) serum levels (206 mg/l, range 15–259 mg/l versus 17.5 mg/l, range 3.3–72.7 mg/l; p = 0.036). With antibiotics adapted according to culture sensitivities in the first 2 weeks, neuroimaging revealed a progression of empyema or abscess in 45% of the cases.

Conclusion Favorable outcome can be achieved in a considerable proportion of an intensive care population with spontaneous empyema or brain abscess. Sepsis and more frequent need for vasopressors, associated with unfavorable outcome, indicate a fulminant course of a not only cerebral but systemic infection. Change of antibiotic therapy according to microbiological findings in the first 2 weeks should be exercised with great caution.