Abscesses and Cysts

An abscess is an accumulation of pus that is caused by a bacterial infection. In the liver, these bacteria spread from the digestive tract and approximately one quarter of the UK population are thought to have liver abscesses.

The first symptoms of abscesses can include fever, anorexia, sickness, weight loss and pain in the liver and may later progress to jaundices. Abscesses can be diagnosed through blood tests and analysis of bodily tissue removed under ultrasound guidance.

They are usually treated by antibiotics, although if these are not effective drainage may be required via catheter. If left undrained, abscesses can be very serious, but with the use of drainage and chemotherapy the life expectancy has been greatly increased.

A cyst is similar to an abscess, although it is not filled with pus. There are many different types of cysts, ranging from "simple" cysts to multiple cysts that are linked to polycystic liver disease (PCLD). Polycycstic cysts are congenital and it is thought that approximately 5% of the population have liver cysts of one form or another.

Simple cysts usually do not present with symptoms, although they can cause pain in the liver area (right-hand side of the ribs). Polycystic cysts usually present as tummy pains and pains in the liver area and these symptoms may be first noticed during puberty.

Cysts are diagnosed by either CT or MRI scanning and treatment depends on the type of cyst that is found. Simple cysts can be drained of fluid, whereas PCLD rarely needs treating. If it does, drainage can again be used, and if this is not effective a liver transplant may be required.