What is a ruptured spleen?

A ruptured spleen occurs when the surface of this organ is injured, which can lead to internal bleeding. A ruptured spleen can potentially be life-threatening if it is not treated quickly.

The spleen is an organ about the size of a fist, located in the left upper abdomen, near the stomach. The spleen is part of the lymphatic system, which helps fight infection and also filters the blood.

What causes a ruptured spleen?

The surface of the spleen is protected by a layer of tissue called the capsule. An injury to this layer is usually associated with blunt trauma, but can also occur with conditions that cause splenomegaly (an enlarged spleen).

Injuries to the spleen can be caused by:

  • Car, motorcycle or bicycle accidents
  • Contact sports such as football
  • Assault

Diseases that can increase the risk of splenic rupture include:

  • Infections such as mononucleosis or malaria
  • Cancers, such as lymphoma, that lead to an enlarged spleen
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Liver disease

What are the symptoms of a ruptured spleen?

The main symptom of a ruptured spleen is severe pain in the abdomen, especially on the left side. The pain may also be referred to (felt in) the left shoulder, and can make breathing painful.

Other symptoms, which are associated with a decrease in blood pressure due to internal bleeding, include:

  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision

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