What is the spleen?
The spleen is an organ that is located in the upper abdomen. The spleen is normally about the size of a fist. The spleen is important because it helps filter the blood.
What is an enlarged spleen?
An enlarged spleen, a condition known as splenomegaly, is not in itself a disease. It is usually a symptom of another problem.
What are the symptoms of an enlarged spleen?
You may not have any symptoms from an enlarged spleen. However, you may:
- Feel a kind of dull pain on the left side of the abdomen or in your back.
- Feel full early, so that you can eat only small amounts.
- Become anemic (and with that, be tired and/or short of breath).
What causes an enlarged spleen?
There are many things that might cause a spleen to enlarge, including:
- Viral, fungal and bacterial infections
- Hemolytic anemia, in which the spleen destroys healthy red blood cells
- Blood clots of the veins from the spleen or liver
- Liver diseases, including cirrhosis
- Cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma
- Metabolic diseases (storage diseases, which are related to lack of enzymes), such as Gaucher disease
- Felty syndrome, a disorder that combines rheumatoid arthritis, a low number of white blood cells (called neutropenia), and an enlarged spleen
Care and Treatment
How is an enlarged spleen diagnosed?
An enlarged spleen can usually be felt by a doctor during a physical examination. Other tests may include imaging, such as ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs.
How is an enlarged spleen treated?
Treatment depends on the etiology of the splenomegaly (what is causing the spleen to become larger). In certain cases, surgery is required to remove the spleen (an operation called splenectomy).
Are there special considerations for people with enlarged spleens?
If you have an enlarged spleen, you should be careful not to play contact sports like football or hockey, due to the risk of rupture or bleeding.