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Lung abscess

John G Bartlett, MD
Section Editor
Stephen B Calderwood, MD
Deputy Editor
Sheila Bond, MD


Lung abscess is defined as necrosis of the pulmonary parenchyma caused by microbial infection. Some authorities use the term "necrotizing pneumonia" or "lung gangrene" to distinguish pulmonary necrosis with multiple small abscesses from a larger cavitary lesion, but this actually represents a continuum of the same process. Lung abscesses are usually polymicrobial infections caused by strictly anaerobic and facultatively anaerobic bacteria that colonize the oral cavity, but a range of pathogens can cause them.

The classification, clinical features, diagnosis, and treatment of lung abscess will be reviewed here. Aspiration pneumonia, which may precede the development of a lung abscess, is discussed separately. (See "Aspiration pneumonia in adults".)


The term "lung abscess" is often applied to reflect the clinical features that are useful in management decisions, such as duration of prior symptoms, presence of associated conditions, or microbial etiology.

Lung abscesses can be classified as acute or chronic based upon the duration of symptoms prior to presentation for medical care; symptoms present for one month or more are considered chronic.

Lung abscess may be primary or secondary based upon the presence or absence of common associated conditions. Abscesses in patients prone to aspiration or patients who have been healthy previously are usually considered primary; the term "secondary lung abscess" typically indicates an associated bronchogenic neoplasm or systemic disease that compromises immune defenses, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection or organ transplantation.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Mar 23, 2017.
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