The spleen is the fist-sized organ that helps fight infection in the body by filtering the blood and keeping blood flowing to the liver. When the spleen has to be removed -- because of cancer or other diseases -- a surgeon performs a splenectomy.
A splenectomy is the surgical removal of your spleen.
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Your spleen is an organ that is located in the upper left side of your abdomen. About the size of a fist, the spleen has several functions.
Your spleen may be removed for a number of diseases
Spleen disorders are diagnosed with:
In most cases, a splenectomy can be performed laparoscopically if the spleen is not massively enlarged. Under general anesthesia, the abdomen is inflated with carbon dioxide to allow your surgeons to see the operative area. Through small incisions, a camera (laparoscope) is placed into the abdomen and the picture is sent to video monitors for the surgeons to watch. Further small operating instruments are used to perform the operation. Your surgeon frees the spleen from all of its surrounding attachments. One incision is eventually extended to approximately 2 cm to place the “stapler” to control the blood supply (splenic artery and vein) of the organ. The now free spleen is placed inside a special bag with a drawstring, which is brought through the largest incision. Using a finger inside the bag, your spleen is broken into smaller pieces. The fragments of your spleen are then sent to pathology for analysis and the bag is removed.
If your spleen is too large for laparoscopic removal, it will be removed using an open approach with a single large incision. In addition to spleen size, scar tissue from previous operations may lead your surgeon to choose the open approach. This decision may be made before or during surgery. Indeed, it is always possible that a laparoscopic case may need to be converted to open if there are bleeding problems.
Possible complications include the usual risks of all surgeries, including bleeding, infection, and injury to the surrounding abdominal organs.
One particular risk associated with splenectomy is overwhelming post-splenectomy infection. Fortunately there are vaccines available to protect against the main types of bacteria. Preoperatively, and then again two months later, your physician will order three shots to optimize your immune system. Booster shots are then given five years later. You should also get your yearly flu shot. Splenectomy patients can get sick and be around sick people. However, if you develop an illness, as noted by a high fever, you should contact your provider immediately and antibiotics will be prescribed.
Once you are able to tolerate a regular diet, move about without difficulty and your pain is under control, you will be discharged home. This usually occurs within two to three days with the laparoscopic technique and five to seven days with an open incision.
You may take a shower or bath right away as your incisions will be closed with dissolving sutures and skin glue. You may drive when you are not requiring narcotic pain pills nor are having any distracting pain. Although each patient is unique, the hope is that you can return to your everyday activities quickly. You should then slowly increase your activities as tolerated. Indeed, this process is slower with the open approach. Young children who have had their spleen removed may be prescribed antibiotics to prevent serious infections.
Yes, you can live without your spleen. Your liver will take over many of the functions of your spleen. As mentioned, you may be at increased risk of infection, though the likelihood is quite low. Still it is important to be vigilant and obtain immediate medical attention if you develop an illness with a high fever after your spleen has been removed.
Call your healthcare provider or surgeon if you experience:
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/23/2020.
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