Amebic liver abscess

Amebic liver abscess is a collection of pus in the liver caused by the intestinal parasite Entamoeba histolytica.

Alternative Names

Hepatic amebiasis; Extraintestinal amebiasis; Abscess - amebic liver

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Amebic liver abscess is caused by the same organism, Entamoeba histolytica, that causes amebiasis , an intestinal infection . The organism is carried through the blood to the liver where the abscess is formed. Patients may or may not have symptoms of intestinal infection concurrently with liver abscess . The infection is present worldwide, but is most common in tropical areas where crowded living conditions and poor sanitation exist. Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and India have significant health problems associated with this disease. Transmission occurs through ingestion of cysts in fecally contaminated food or water, use of human excrement as fertilizer, and person-to-person contact. Risk factors for amebic liver abscess include malnutrition, old age, pregnancy, steroid use, malignancy, immunosuppression and alcoholism . Recent travel to a tropical region is a risk factor. In the U.S., institutionalized people and male homosexuals are known high risk groups.

Signs and tests

These tests detect abscess in the liver:

  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • or MRI
  • Liver biopsy
  • - rarely done due to high risk of complications
  • Liver scan
  • Liver function tests
  • may show abnormalities.
  • A
  • CBC shows elevated white blood count , indicating infection.
  • A
  • serology for amebiasis is positive.
  • Indirect hemagglutination test (see
  • Coombs' test - indirect ) shows abnormalities.


    Antimicrobial therapy with metronidazole is the usual treatment for liver abscess . The abscess may rarely be drained to help relieve some of the abdominal pain associated with the abscess. Medication such as paromomycin must also be taken to eliminate intestinal amebiasis to prevent recurrence of the disease.

    Expectations (prognosis)

    Without treatment, the abscess may rupture and spread into other organs, and death may occur as a result.


    The abscess may rupture into the peritoneal (abdominal) cavity, pleural space (lining of the lungs), lungs, or pericardium (sac around the heart). The infection can also spread to the brain.

    Calling your health care provider

    Call your health care provider if symptoms develop after travel to an endemic area.


    When traveling in tropical countries where poor sanitation exists, drink purified water and do not eat uncooked vegetables or unpeeled fruit. Public health measures include improved water purification and waste treatment for underdeveloped countries.

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