Causes of Swollen Spleen and What are Its Symptoms

Swollen Spleen

A swollen or enlarged spleen is called splenomegaly. It can be caused by a number of factors including infections. Most of the time it is asymptomatic and is only discovered during a routine physical check up.

The spleen is a fist-sized organ found just below the left rib cage. It is found next to the stomach and performs several critical functions. Some of the spleen’s functions include:

  • Filtering out and destroying damaged and old blood cells from the system.

  • Produces Lymphocytes which are white blood cells essential to the immune system.

  • Stores red blood cells and clotting agents.

The spleen is also believed to have a connection to the brain and the immune system and it is believed to act as an intermediary between them.

When the spleen is enlarged it can cause the following problems:

  • The spleen cannot decipher healthy blood cells from damaged ones. Healthy blood cells are also filtered, which reduces the number of much needed health cells in the blood stream and ultimately cause anemia.

  • Traps an excessive amount of platelets which can cause blood clots in the organ. This can lead to ischemia in some areas of the spleen, further aggravating the issue.

Swollen Spleen Symptoms

A swollen spleen is often asymptomatic, but in some cases it can present with the following signs and symptoms.

  • Pain on the upper left quadrant of the abdomen.

  • Uncomfortable fullness even with small intakes of food.

  • Anemia, this occurs because of the improper filtration of red blood cells.

  • Fatigue

  • Decreased Clotting Time or Easy Bleeding, platelets can accumulate in the spleen instead of being circulated throughout the body.

  • Frequent Infections, this is due to problems with the production of white blood cells.

Causes of Swollen Spleen

Some of the possible causes of splenomegaly include the following.

  • Infections, it can be viral or bacterial. Parasitic infections affecting the blood (e.g. malaria) may also cause some problems.

  • Cirrhosis or Infections affecting the liver

  • Anemia, Hemolytic anemia can cause problems with the spleen because there is a premature destruction of the red blood cells.

  • Leukemia and other blood cancer.

  • Blood clots in the spleen or in the surrounding structures.

Metabolic problems can also cause problems with the spleen, including Gaucher’s Disease.

What are the Treatment for Swollen Spleen

Treating a swollen spleen is going to depend on the underlying cause. Some of the common treatment methods include:

  • Splenectomy, this is the surgical removal of the spleen. It is done if an enlarged spleen can lead to serious complications. It is also performed when a chronic disease of the spleen is present.

A person can live a normal life without a spleen, but they may have to be careful of post-surgical infections.