What is a splenectomy?

A splenectomy refers to taking out the spleen in surgery. Removing part of the spleen is called a partial splenectomy. Removing all of the spleen is called a total splenectomy.

What is a spleen?

The spleen is an organ that is located on the upper left side of the abdomen. About the size of a fist, the spleen is important because it helps fight infection in the body by filtering the blood. The spleen also stores blood cells and keeps blood flowing to the liver.

Why would you need to have your spleen removed?

A splenectomy is recommended as a treatment for some conditions that cause hypersplenism and might be recommended as a treatment for others. Hypersplenism is not a disease itself, but is more of a syndrome, or a collection of symptoms. It means that the spleen has become overactive, enlarged, and is storing and destroying too many blood cells and platelets.

There are two reasons that a spleen is always removed: to treat primary cancers of the spleen and to treat a disease called hereditary spherocytosis.

Hereditary spherocystosis (HS) is an inherited disease that involves the lack of ankyrin a specific protein, and the formation of abnormally-shaped red blood cells, called spherocytes.

Spherocytes do not move as easily as they should and end up staying longer in the spleen. This almost always increases the size of the spleen. An enlarged spleen is called splenomegaly. The cells eventually become damaged and results in anemia and jaundice. Children with HS are given folic acid supplements on a daily basis. The spleen is removed after a child reaches the age of five.

Other conditions that are often treated with splenectomy

  • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, a disease in which antibodies kill off platelets. The reason that the antibodies form is not known.
  • Trauma, such as injury due to an auto accident.
  • Spleen with an abscess (collection of pus due to infection).
  • Splenic artery rupture, possible during pregnancy.
  • Sickle cell disease (a blood disorder that is characterized by sickle-shaped, rather than disc-shaped, red blood cells).
  • Thalassemia (inherited blood disorder resulting in inadequate hemoglobin production).

How are spleen disorders diagnosed?

  • Blood tests
  • Physical examination (an enlarged spleen may be felt by your doctor)
  • Imaging tests such as ultrasounds, X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computerized tomography (CT) scans
  • Bone marrow tissue biopsy

Removal of spleen tissue is not advisable due to the possibility of excessive bleeding.

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