Conditions that Cause a Swollen Spleen

A swollen spleen, also known as splenomegaly in the medical community, can be a relatively unnoticeable condition because it doesn’t always produce symptoms. In some cases a swollen spleen will make itself known by causing a bit of pain or discomfort in the upper left side of the abdomen, where the spleen lies nestled behind the stomach. As the spleen grows in size it can press against nearby organs, like the stomach, causing a false feeling of fullness resulting in loss of appetite and anorexia. It may also infringe on the diaphragm causing sporadic and recurring bouts of the hiccups. Listed below are a few conditions that can lead to spleen enlargement, each of which produces its own set of symptoms by which it can be identified.

Mono

Mono, or mononucleosis, is an infection that most of us know better as the ‘kissing disease.’ Mono is a viral infection and is most often caused by the extremely common and contagious Epstein-Barr virus, although it may be caused by other viral organisms. This is an extremely contagious virus and is typically spread through the exchange of saliva or contact with other mucous membranes. As a result, the most likely age group to experience this virus is between the ages of 15 and 18. Obviously there is little coincidence between the age group and the fact that this disease is often transferred through kisses!

The symptoms of mononucleosis are fever, fatigue, malaise, achiness in the muscles and joints, sore throat, swollen spleen, appetite loss, nausea, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash that bears a similar resemblance to the measles rash. Because mono is a viral infection, antibiotics are not helpful in speeding up the recovery process. The virus will run its course usually over a period of about two weeks, although symptoms like spleen swelling, tiredness, and general fatigue can take two months to go away.

Viral Hepatitis

As you might already know, hepatitis is a condition that affects the liver. In fact, hepatitis literally means ‘inflamed liver.’ The liver and the spleen have a very close relationship; the liver is responsible for filtering toxins out of the blood and the spleen is responsible for holding onto large amounts of white blood cells which it uses to launch against any infectious organisms that this organ detects in the blood stream. If the liver is unable to work properly due to inflammation caused by the hepatitis virus, the spleen can suddenly find itself overwhelmed with blood that must be filtered for toxins and infectious organisms. This leads to blood retention and swelling. In order to reduce swelling in the spleen, the underlying cause of hepatitis must be addressed.

Red Blood Cell Abnormalities

In addition to holding on to a large amount of white blood cells, the spleen also uses red blood cells and platelets to promote blood clotting. Clotting is very important because it prevents your body from bleeding out from the smallest prick of the skin. The spleen would naturally remove the abnormal blood cells that occasionally pass through, but a disorder that results in large numbers of abnormal red blood cells can force the spleen to retain large amounts of these abnormal cells as it attempts to filter them out of the blood. If this condition is allowed to progress to a serious level, there is the possibility that the spleen will become so full of red blood cells that it literally bursts and bleeds out into the rest of the abdomen.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that most of us associate with the lungs. This type of infection is called pulmonary tuberculosis. Many people don’t realize that tuberculosis can affect other organs, including the spleen. In this case, the condition is called splenic tuberculosis. It’s okay if this name doesn’t ring a bell—it’s actually a really rare condition. Tuberculosis of the spleen is generally associated with other immunodeficiency conditions. Due to the rarity of this condition, an extensive list of symptoms is not available; although past cases would suggest that a fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a swollen spleen are fairly typical side effects of tuberculosis of the spleen. Medication can be given to attempt to kill off the tuberculosis bacteria but if this is ineffective then the next option for treatment would likely be to remove the spleen.

Trauma

Another possible cause behind a swollen spleen is trauma. Have you ever heard a friend joke about being punched in the spleen while horsing around? As often as the spleen is used in comedic remarks, it is actually possible to physically injure the spleen. Because the spleen is partially protected by the bottom of the rib cage, the bottom half of this organ can easily be injured if it is hit hard enough. The physical tissue damage that the spleen sustains will trigger inflammation, just like any other significant trauma, which results in swelling, tightness, and general discomfort. Provided that the injury isn’t severe, the swelling should go down with the help of an ice pack and a few days of rest. If the injury worsens, you notice that your blood is not clotting properly, or your blood pressure rises after the injury then you should see a doctor straight away, as this could be a sign that your spleen sustained serious damage.


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