Brain Abscess Believed Linked to Tongue Piercing

An abscess detected in the brain of a young woman was believed caused by an infection resulting from having her tongue pierced one month earlier, two Yale physicians have reported.

This is believed to be the first report of a brain abscess associated with tongue piercing.

“The bacteria that caused the abscess in this patient were those typically found in persons’ mouths,” said Richard Martinello, M.D., of the Section of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale School of Medicine. “We conclude the abscess potentially arose secondary to the tongue piercing associated infection.”

Martinello, who was assisted by Elizabeth Cooney, M.D., associate clinical professor of internal medicine, said the patient reported that two to three days after the tongue piercing her tongue was swollen, tender and had a foul tasting discharge. She removed the jewelry from her tongue and the symptoms cleared up within a few days.

But about a month later she began suffering from severe headaches, fever, nausea and vomiting. She also had difficulty maintaining her balance. The woman was referred to Yale when a CT scan conducted in a local emergency room showed an abnormality in the cerebellum area of her brain, which is associated with coordination and voluntary muscular activity.

The patient’s abscess was drained by Yale neurosurgeons. She then received six weeks of intravenous antibiotics and made a full recovery.

Martinello said he reported the finding as a caution to persons who are contemplating having a body piercing and as an alert to the piercers because they are the ones who are most likely to see or hear about the symptoms.

“Although the jewelry inserted through the tongue allows a ready tract for spontaneous drainage of infection, this procedure is likely at high risk for post-operative complication due to the presence of a foreign body in a warm, moist, bacteria-laden environment,” he said.

Cerebellar brain abscesses are typically caused by migrating infections from the sinuses or ears, Martinello said.

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