What causes enlarged spleen? 18 possible conditions
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.
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.
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:
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma
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.
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.
- Enlarged Spleen: Spleen Disorders. (n.d.). The Merck Manuals. Retrieved July 1, 2012, from http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/blood_disorders/spleen_disorders/enlarged_spleen.html
- Enlarged Spleen (Splenomegaly). (2010, November 11). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved July 1, 2012, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/enlarged-spleen/DS00871
- Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. (2011, June 28). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved July 1, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001487/
- Mononucleosis. (2012, May 15). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved July 1, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001617/
- Radiation Therapy for Cancer. (2010, June 30). National Cancer Institute. Retrieved July 1, 2012, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/radiation
- Splenomegaly. (2012, February 19). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved July 1, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003276.htm
See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.
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