Often few swollen spleen symptoms appear in people suffering from an enlarged or damaged spleen. A swollen spleen is not a disease, but rather is a symptom caused by other underlying problems or disorders. However, an enlarged or damaged spleen can become a life-threatening problem, so recognizing swollen spleen symptoms and their underlying causes is important.
The spleen is a fist sized organ located under the ribcage on the left side of the body. It sits next to the stomach and is an easily injured organ. The spleen is important for the body’s overall health and infection defenses. The spleen functions to filter out old blood cells, store blood clotting platelets, and producing white blood cells, the body’s natural defense against invading cells. Because it is such a soft organ and is very easily damaged, injury or infection of the spleen can lead to a rupture in the organ. This is a life threatening emergency because a ruptured spleen causes uncontrollable bleeding into the abdominal cavity.
A swollen or enlarged spleen is referred to as splenomegaly. Often few symptoms appear and the enlargement is discovered by a routine doctor’s checkup. An enlarged spleen can usually be felt directly by a physical examination. Swollen spleen symptoms include pain in the left side of the body, which may become severe with breathing, shoulder pain and back pain on the left side and a full feeling in the stomach. These symptoms occur because an enlarging spleen places pressure on the internal body. Other symptoms are fatigue, bleeding, infections and anemia. A doctor may be able to feel an enlarged spleen, but also may use blood tests and digital imaging techniques such as ultrasounds, CT scans (computerized tomography) and MRIs (magnetic reconance imaging) to discover its underlying cause. In severe cases a bone marrow biopsy or aspiration may be necessary. The spleen is an organ that cannot be cut into for diagnosis, because it will cause uncontrollable bleeding.
As the spleen continues to swell it begins to cause more problems to the body. An enlarged spleen can begin to filter out more red blood cells than it should, effectively lowering the amount of red blood cells (which carry oxygen) in the body. An enlargement of the spleen can also cause hypersplenism, a condition where the spleen collects blood platelets from the body at an accelerated rate. The more platelets the spleen collects, the large in size the organ becomes and begins to collect even more platelets. This cycle continues until too many blood clotting platelets are removed from the body and bleeding problems occur. Another problem occurs when the spleen becomes larger; it requires more blood to remain active. If it grows to be too large it can effectively outgrow its blood supply causing portions of the spleen to die.
There are many disorders or infections that can result in swollen spleen symptoms. Bacterial infections such as endocarditis or syphilis can disrupt the spleen’s processes, as well as viral infections such as mononucleosis. Certain types of cancers like leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease, metabolic disorders such as Gaucher’s disease and Niemann-Pick disease, Cirrhosis of the liver, malaria and Hemolytic anemia can all cause an enlargement of the spleen. Also complications of sickle cell disease and blood clotting of the veins within the spleen or liver can result in a swollen spleen. If any of these underlying problems cause the spleen to become too large, the result can be a ruptured spleen and possibly death.
Treatments for an enlarged spleen are dependent on the cause. Drugs such as antiviral or antibiotics may help cure the underlying causes of viral or bacterial infections. Radiation therapies may work in cancer cases. Removing the spleen surgically, also known as a splenectomy is usually only performed in extreme cases, such as when a portion of the organ dies, if the spleen is collecting too many red blood cells, or if the organ’s enlargement is placing too much pressure on the other organs. While it is possible to live without a spleen, it causes the body to become much more prone to infections. Treatment of an enlarged spleen is necessary and swollen spleen symptoms should be dealt with immediately to avoid potentially dangerous consequences.
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