What causes enlarged spleen? 18 possible conditions

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What Is Splenomegaly?

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 bacteria, reprocessing old red blood cells, and recycling the iron in the hemoglobin.

Your spleen is extremely important in your body’s fight against infection because it is the source of your white blood 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 problem is only discovered during a routine physical exam. If you are very slim, however, 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 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 properly.

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 wise to make an appointment with your doctor. If you experience pain in the upper left side of your abdomen that is severe or unbearable, 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, like mononucleosis, are among the most common causes of splenomegaly. Problems with your liver, like cirrhosis of the liver and cystic fibrosis, can also cause an enlarged spleen.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation of the lymph system. Because the spleen is part of the lymph system, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can cause splenomegaly.

Other potential causes of an enlarged spleen include:

  • malaria
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • leukemia

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. If the infection that causes your enlarged spleen is caused by a bacterium, antibiotics may help. If a virus caused your infection, as is the case with mononucleosis, antibiotics would be of little help.

In serious cases, your doctor might suggest that you have your spleen removed (splenectomy). It’s entirely possible to live a normal, healthy life after having your spleen removed, but your risk of developing infections throughout your life may increase. You can reduce your risk of getting infections by getting the appropriate vaccinations.

Going Forward

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 could be life threatening. Avoid playing contact sports, like soccer or hockey, and make sure that you wear a seatbelt when you are in a car. If you get into an accident, your seat belt will help protect your organs, including your spleen.

With treatment of the underlying cause of your enlarged spleen, you can go on to live a normal, healthy life.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML)

Leukemia is a type of cancer that starts in the blood or blood-forming tissues. There are many different types of leukemia, and treatment is different for each one. Chronic leukemias are slower growing than acut...

Read more »

2

Idiopathic Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) is a group of blood disorders that occur when red blood cells are destroyed faster than they're produced. Symptoms include weakness, shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, and others.

Read more »

3

Hodgkin's Disease

Hodgkin's disease is a type of lymphoma, a blood cancer that starts in the lymphatic system. It can occur at any age, but is most prevalent between the ages of 15 and 40 and after the age of 55.

Read more »

4

Malaria

Malaria is a life-threatening disease. It is typically transmitted through the bite of a mosquito infected with Anopheles. Nausea, chills, fever, and diarrhea are common symptoms.

Read more »

5

Hemolytic Anemia

Your bone marrow is responsible for producing red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets (cells responsible for clotting). Hemolytic anemia is a condition that involves only the red blood cells. When old re...

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6

Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AHA) is a group of conditions where a person's immune system destroys their red blood cells (RBCs). These rare conditions occur when antibodies-proteins that normally protect us from viruse...

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7

Familial Combined Hyperlipidemia

Familial combined hyperlipidemia is an inherited disorder that causes high cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides. Some individuals have no physical symptoms from the disease. For others, it may cause chest pain.

Read more »

8

Hyperlipoproteinemia

Hyperlipoproteinemia is a common disorder that results in high levels of lipids circulating in the blood. This can cause pancreatitis, abdominal pain, enlarged liver and other symptoms.

Read more »

9

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Leukemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood and blood-forming tissues. There are many types of leukemia, each affecting different kinds of blood cells. Chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, is a cancer of th...

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10

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a form of chronic arthritis that affects children. It is a long-term autoimmune condition characterized by stiffness and swelling in the joints. Most cases of JRA are mild.

Read more »

11

Infectious Mononucleosis

Infectious mononucleosis, often called "mono," is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It typically occurs in teenagers, but you can get it at any age. The virus is spread through saliva, which is why some peopl...

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12

Adult-Onset Still's Disease

Adult-onset Still's disease (often called AOSD) is a relatively rare condition. It begins with fever and may lead to arthritis. Classified as an inflammatory illness, the disease often causes fatigue and swelling i...

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13

Leukemia

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood cells. There are several types of blood cells, including red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets. Generally, leukemia refers to cancers of the WBCs. Two types o...

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14

G6PD Deficiency

The body needs adequate amounts of red and white blood cells to keep tissues oxygenated, fight infection, and maintain health. Enzymes are proteins that help regulate biochemical reactions and metabolism in the body an...

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15

Hyperlipidemia

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that occurs naturally in the body. But too much cholesterol can clog blood vessels and lead to heart attack or stroke.

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16

Acrodermatitis and Your Child

Acrodermatitis is a skin condition that typically affects children between the ages of 6 months and 12 years. The full name of the disease is papular acrodermatitis of childhood. It is also called Gianotti-Crost...

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17

Hyperlipoproteinemia Type IV

Hyperlipoproteinemia type IV, also known as familial hypertriglyceridemia, is a disorder in which an individual has a higher-than-normal triglyceride level due to a genetic defect. As a result, the affected individua...

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18

Gaucher's Disease

Gaucher disease is an inherited condition in which your body does not store fatty materials (called lipids ) correctly. Fatty substances can build up around your vital organs, including your liver, spleen, lungs, bones...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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