Renal Corticomedullary Abscess Treatment & Management

Updated: Jan 21, 2022
  • Author: Wesley R Baas, MD; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
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Medical Care

In most patients with acute focal or multifocal pyelonephritis, treatment with appropriate antibiotics should produce a clinical response within 1 week of initiating therapy. However, well-established large abscesses are often difficult to treat with antibiotics alone, with most studies limiting treatment of renal abscesses with antibiotics alone to lesions smaller than 3 cm.

In most patients with suspected corticomedullary abscess, a prompt attempt at treatment with intravenous antibiotics directed against culture-specific bacteria in addition to intravenous fluid resuscitation may be used. Medical treatment alone should be limited to hemodynamically stable patients with small (< 3 cm) corticomedullary abscesses. Patients with signs of hemodynamic instability due to sepsis or with large renal abscesses (≥3 cm) should undergo percutaneous or surgical drainage for abscess management (see Surgical Care). Moreover, medical therapy alone in the treatment of perinephric abscesses is inappropriate, as the risk of mortality associated with perinephric abscess treated with antibiotics alone is upward of 33%.

Comploj et al treated 6 pediatric patients conservatively with broad-spectrum antibiotics. None of the abscesses were treated surgically or percutaneously drained. In all 6 cases, the abscess was successfully resolved. [15]

A penicillin derivative, a cephalosporin, an aminoglycoside, or a fluoroquinolone, administered intravenously, is the appropriate initial antibiotic. For combination therapy, a beta-lactam antibiotic plus an aminoglycoside should be administered intravenously. Administer this line of therapy until culture and sensitivity results are received and then modify the regimen to the most appropriate agent.

The duration of therapy is not well defined. Continue parenteral antibiotics for at least 24-48 hours after symptoms have improved and the fever resolves. Then, switch to a suitable oral antibiotic and continue treatment for an additional 2-4 weeks, until complete clinical and radiographic resolution of the intrarenal process has occurred.

Factors that may contribute to medical treatment failure include elderly age, diabetes mellitus, large abscesses, obstructive uropathy, and urosepsis.

Antimicrobial therapy alone is not indicated for patients with xanthogranulomatous pyelonephritis (XGP). However, it may be acceptable to stabilize a patient with antibiotics before considering surgery. Nephrectomy is often required for definitive treatment.


Surgical Care

Surgical debridement, drainage, and nephrectomy were once widely used to treat corticomedullary abscesses. However, since the advent of effective antibiotics along with percutaneous techniques, the open surgical approach is now reserved for more severe, refractory cases. Indications for aggressive intervention include persistent infection unresponsive to appropriate antibiotics, impending sepsis, and ongoing hemodynamic instability.

Coagulopathy is the main contraindication to percutaneous drainage or surgical intervention. In most cases, the coagulopathy can be corrected so that the appropriate therapy can be delivered.

Abscess drainage

In general, large intrarenal abscesses require drainage if the patient has persistent fever and no clinical improvement after 1 week of appropriate antimicrobial therapy. Percutaneous drainage plus parenteral antibiotics is indicated as the initial treatment for abscesses 3-5 cm in size. Renal abscesses may be drained percutaneously under CT or ultrasonographic guidance.

In cases that involve perirenal abscess or infected urinoma, also place a percutaneous perirenal drain. Drainage via the percutaneously placed tube should continue at least until the patient is afebrile and stable, and then until drain output is minimal.

Surgical therapy

If surgical intervention is indicated, the abscess should be explored and drained. Copious irrigation of the infected renal fossa with an antibiotic irrigant along with placement of perirenal drains should follow. Reserve nephrectomy for patients with diffusely damaged renal parenchyma or patients who are septic and require urgent intervention for survival.


Simple nephrectomy is usually adequate.  Most surgeons perform nephrectomy via an open, retroperitoneal approach to avoid spilling infection into the peritoneal cavity. 

Partial nephrectomy may be possible in patients with focal disease confined to the kidney (stage I) or perinephric fat (stage II); however, the more common presentation is diffuse disease involving most of the kidney and extending to the perirenal fat (stage II) and beyond (stage III).

Nephrectomy is often required for patients with symptomatic XGP. Nephrectomy on an XGP kidney can be very difficult because of obliteration of planes secondary to the extensive infection and inflammation. An open approach is often required. Following nephrectomy, patients without other urinary tract pathology have an excellent prognosis. The xanthogranulomatous process does not recur after excision.

Preoperative details

A thorough workup that involves screening for risk factors that predispose to intrarenal abscess is necessary. This workup should include preoperative imaging to define the extent of the parenchymal process (see Imaging Studies). Contrast CT scanning is the standard imaging modality and allows greatest definition of the patient’s anatomy, degree of abscess extension, and associated conditions (eg, obstructive uropathy). Moreover, if surgical intervention is necessary, CT imaging can be used to help determine the optimal surgical approach.

Intraoperative details

Either supine or flank positions may be used. Usually, the flank position is preferred because of ease of establishing a drainage tract and prevention of possible peritoneal exposure to infected material.

Postoperative details

Parenteral antibiotic therapy should continue following surgery, with subsequent conversion to oral administration when the patient is able to tolerate a diet. Antibiotic therapy is generally continued for at least 2 weeks.

Discharge patients under the following conditions:

  • Tolerating diet
  • Ambulating
  • Afebrile
  • Adequate pain control on oral analgesics

Inform the patient that normal activities can resume in 4-6 weeks.


Patient should return to the clinic in 1-2 weeks for follow-up examination, which includes the following:

  • Checking the wound for signs of surgical-site infection
  • Removal of staples or sutures
  • Contrast CT scan to ensure resolution of renal parenchymal abnormalities


The most feared complication of corticomedullary abscess is extension of the abscess through the renal capsule, resulting in a perinephric abscess. Gerota fascia usually contains the abscess within the perinephric space, but the process may extend into the retroperitoneum to infect adjacent structures. In these situations, simple nephrectomy is challenging because adjacent organs, such as the pancreas and bowel, may be involved.