Spleen is part of lymphatic system of the body and is located on the left upper portion of the abdomen on your back. The main function of the spleen is to drain out the damaged blood cells. It filters and destroys the unwanted blood cells and is responsible for the production of lymphocytes (serves as defense for protecting the body against pathogens). Spleen acts as a storehouse for storing blood cells and platelets and releases it whenever necessary. It also acts as a messenger between the brain and the immune system by fighting against infection.
Any problem in the spleen like pain or swelling can seriously affect its function causing undesirable consequences. The size of the spleen is roughly the size of your fist. If there is swelling of spleen due to any infection or disease, your doctor can feel the spleen since it expands in size when there is inflammation. An enlarged spleen is not a problem always. It indicates that spleen is doing its best of functions. But if there are other symptoms like pain and enlargement then it can be a problem of infection.
Causes of Spleen Enlargement :
Many diseases and infection can cause enlargement of spleen. Infection caused by virus (mononucleosis), infection of bacteria like syphilis and endocartitis (Inflammation of heart layer), infection caused by parasite (malaria), liver cirrhosis, and hemolytic anemia can cause enlargement of spleen.
Certain types of blood cancer like leukemia, lymphoma, metabolic disorders (Niemann Pick disease and Gaucher’s disease), and increased pressure on the veins can cause enlargement of spleen. Injury during sports activities, cyst formation and infiltrative diseases can also cause enlargement of spleen.
What happens when the spleen overgrows in size?
An enlarged spleen may not function like before. It may not be able to filter and destroy bacteria from the blood cells. It cannot differentiate between healthy cells and damaged blood cells. This will lead to reduction of healthy cells in the blood. Over production of blood cells or platelets will block the spleen thus disrupting its functions. The spleen grows big in size due to swelling and can cause damage to the neighboring organs.
Enlarged spleen may be with or without symptoms. For some people it can cause pain on the upper abdomen region that spreads till the left shoulder. The person may feel bloated or full after eating very little food. He may become anemic or feel tired soon. There may be unexplained weight loss and consistent dull pain on the upper back. The person will be getting infections of various types frequently. He is prone to bleed easily without clot formation. He may suffer from easy bleeding problem and bruising.
Ruptured Spleen :
Sometimes the spleen can get ruptured causing emergency problem pouring the blood into the stomach, causing large bleeding. Many times accidents caused by motor vehicle crash and severe injury during sports activities can cause rupturing of spleen. Certain diseases like mononucleosis and blood disorders can also cause ruptured spleen.
Who are at risk of enlarged spleen?
People of specific race like Africans, Ashkenazi Jews and those who are infected with mononucleosis are under the risk of getting enlarged spleen. People with inherited blood related disorders and metabolic disorder can also get this problem. Traveling frequently to malaria prone area can also pose risk for getting this disease. If left untreated, enlarged spleen can become infectious or even rupture causing even death.
The doctor can detect enlarged spleen during routine physical examination. The size of the spleen becomes big when it gets enlarged thus making it easy for detecting it. Further your doctor may request for blood culture, CT or MRI scan of the spleen for diagnosing the intensity of the problem.
In case the spleen becomes enlarged very much it becomes non-responsive for any medications. Hence it has to be removed by splenectomy process. Some doctors use radiation process to shrink the spleen size to normal, instead of removing it surgically.
Mild to moderate enlargement will resolve on its own. It is possible to live without a spleen but it makes you prone to many sort of serious infections. Even after surgery the body is at risk of catching an infection.
Before and after the surgery of removing spleen, series of vaccination has to be taken. You need to follow the instructions of your doctor by taking pneumococcal and meningococcal vaccines to prevent getting pneumonia and meningitis. You should also avoid traveling to malaria or any other epidemic prone area.
Lifestyle Modification :
Once you are diagnosed with enlarged spleen, you should avoid involving in sports activity like hockey or football. Only indoor sports are recommended for you. You need to restrict your daily routine for preventing rupturing of spleen.
Since enlarged spleen is likely to rupture easily, you need to be careful not to get into accidents while driving. Take important course of vaccination to prevent infectious diseases.