Diagnosis - Abscess

Talk to your GP if you think you have an abscess.

There are several tests used to diagnose an abscess. The type of test depends on where it is on your body.

Skin abscesses

If you have a skin abscess, a GP will first examine the affected area and may ask you:

  • how long you've had the abscess
  • if you've injured that area
  • if you have any other symptoms

Some pus may be taken from your abscess and sent for testing. This will identify the type of bacteria causing the abscess. It can help to find the best way of treating it.

If you've had more than 1 skin abscess, you may need to give a sample of your pee. This will be tested for glucose, which is a sign of diabetes. People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing skin abscesses.

If you have recurring boils and abscesses, your GP may get the laboratory to do more tests on the bacteria. This will see if it's producing Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL) toxin.

You may need other treatments. For example, a body wash or an antibiotic cream, to stop these bacteria living on the body.

Internal abscesses

An abscess that develops inside your body is more difficult to diagnose than one on your skin. This is because they cannot be seen.

A GP will ask you about your symptoms and any other health conditions you have. If necessary, they'll refer you to a specialist.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 22 December 2020
Next review due: 22 December 2023