Splenomegaly is a condition that occurs when
your spleen becomes enlarged. It is also commonly referred to as enlarged spleen or spleen enlargement.
The spleen is a part of your lymphatic
system. The spleen helps the immune system by storing white blood cells and
helping in the creation of antibodies.
The spleen is found on the left side of your
body, below your rib cage. It is responsible for:
- filtering antibody-coated
- reprocessing old red blood cells
- recycling the iron in the
Your spleen is extremely important in your
body’s fight against infection because it is the source of two types of white
blood cells, B cells and T cells. White blood cells protect your body from
bacteria and infections. The spleen is usually about the size of your fist, but
when enlarged, it can become much bigger.
What should I look out for?
Some people with an enlarged spleen
experience no symptoms, and the condition is only discovered during a routine
physical exam. If you are very slim, it may be possible for you to feel your
enlarged spleen through your skin.
A common symptom of an enlarged spleen is a
feeling of pain or discomfort in the upper left side of abdomen, where the
spleen is located.
You might also experience a feeling of
fullness after only eating a small amount. This usually happens when the spleen
becomes enlarged to the point that it presses on the stomach. If your spleen
starts to press on other organs, it can start to affect the blood flow to the
spleen. This could cause your spleen to not be able to filter your blood
If your spleen becomes too big, it can start
to remove too many red blood cells from your blood. Not having enough red blood
cells can lead to a condition called anemia. If your spleen can’t create enough
white blood cells as a result of its enlargement, you might also experience
infections more often.
When to see a doctor
If you experience the symptoms of an enlarged
spleen, it is important to make an appointment with your doctor. If you
experience pain in the upper left side of your abdomen that is severe, or if
the pain worsens when you breathe, see your doctor as soon as possible.
What can cause splenomegaly?
An enlarged spleen can be caused by a number
of diseases and conditions. Infections, such as mononucleosis, are among the most common causes of splenomegaly. Problems with
your liver, such as cirrhosis and cystic
fibrosis, can also cause an enlarged spleen.
Another possible cause of splenomegaly is juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. This
condition can cause inflammation of the lymph system. Because the spleen is
part of the lymph system, this inflammation can cause the
spleen to become enlarged.
Other potential causes of an enlarged spleen
- Hodgkin’s disease
- heart failure
- tumors in the spleen or from other organs that have spread to the
- viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections
- inflammatory diseases, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis
- sickle cell disease
Relieving your splenomegaly
To treat your enlarged spleen, your doctor
will have to treat the underlying cause. If the cause of your enlarged spleen
is an infection, your doctor may or may not prescribe you antibiotics depending
on the organism causing the infection.
If the infection that causes your enlarged
spleen is caused by bacteria, antibiotics may help. If a virus caused your
infection, as is the case with mononucleosis, antibiotics would be of no help.
In serious cases, your doctor might suggest
that you have your spleen removed, which is called a splenectomy. It’s entirely possible to live a normal, healthy life after
having your spleen removed. Your risk of developing infections throughout your
life may increase. But you can reduce your risk of getting infections by
getting the appropriate vaccinations.
If you have splenomegaly, finding ways to
prevent damage to your enlarged spleen are important. When your spleen is enlarged,
it has a greater risk of rupture. A ruptured spleen can lead to heavy internal
bleeding that can be life-threatening.
Avoid playing contact sports, such as soccer
or hockey, and make sure that you wear a seatbelt when you are in a car. If you
get into an accident, your seatbelt will help protect your organs, including
your spleen, and will reduce the chance of trauma to your organs.
With treatment of the underlying cause of
your enlarged spleen, you can go on to live a normal, healthy life.