Many people are not aware when there is an issue with their spleen, however changes to this organ often signal that there is an underlying issue that needs looking into. Your spleen is an organ you might not think about very often. It doesn’t get as much coverage and popular attention as some other parts of the body. Yet, your spleen performs some important functions, and when it’s not working as well as it should, this can result in serious problems.
A normal-sized spleen usually cannot be felt but when it is enlarged, it can get discovered during a routine examination.
It is important to promptly diagnose a spleen-related problem as changes to this organ often signal that there is an underlying issue that needs looking into. For example, liver infections and some cancers can cause an enlarged spleen.
The Spleen and its Role In the Body
The spleen is located in the upper left part of the abdomen, under the ribcage that protects it. It sits above the stomach and is usually the size of a fist.
This soft, spongy organ works as part of the lymphatic system and is designed to help with the body’s immune function. It also filters the blood and removes from it any unwanted materials, such as bacteria and viruses.
The spleen is made up of two types of tissue – the white and the red pulp – and they each serve a different function.
The white pulp produces white blood cells, called lymphocytes, which play an important role in the body’s protection against infections.
The red pulp filters the blood and monitors red blood cells. It destroys damaged, old or abnormal red blood cells. It also stores some parts of the blood, including white blood cells and platelets (these aid in the clotting process and enable the wounds to close).
A person can survive without a spleen, but their ability to fight infections will be seriously reduced if the spleen is removed, for example, if it has been damaged in a car crash. The liver can compensate for the loss of the spleen and take over some of its functions.
Different Spleen Problems
The spleen’s function and position in the body makes it susceptible to different conditions:
Enlarged or Swollen Spleen
Enlarged spleen, medically known as splenomegaly, is not considered a separate condition. It is often a result of an underlying disorder, such as chronic infections, anemia or blood cancers. A swollen spleen is seen as a symptom of these diseases. It can be easily missed, as it sometimes doesn’t present with specific symptoms.
When the symptoms are present, they include:
Pain in the upper left part of the abdomen that can spread to the left shoulder. If the pain is severe and gets worse when you take a deep breath, you should see a doctor immediately.
A sensation of being full without eating or after eating only a small amount. This is because the over-sized spleen is pressing on the stomach.
- Frequent infections
- Easy bleeding
- Weight loss
- Low lymphocyte count
Your doctor can diagnose an enlarged spleen by performing a physical examination and by doing different diagnostic tests (blood tests, CT, ultrasound, MRI). Further tests might be needed to get to the root of the problem.
When the underlying cause is identified, this is treated. For example, if a bacterial infection was the primary problem, you will receive antibiotic treatment. Make sure that after taking a course of antibiotics you also take some probiotics so you replenish your gut flora.
Read my previous articles: 9 reasons to take probiotics and 3 things you should do after taking antibiotics to restore healthy intestinal flora.
If you are suffering from an enlarged spleen, you need to take some precautions to prevent further damage. Contact sports should be avoided, as enlarged spleen can get easily torn and start bleeding, which causes serious complications.
In some cases, it might be suggested to remove the chronically enlarged spleen. A spleen removal is called splenectomy and presents a radical intervention, so it needs to be carefully considered.
As mentioned before, the spleen is not crucial to survival and you can continue to lead an active life without it. However, your infection fighting abilities get diminished.
Lacerated or Ruptured Spleen
A ruptured spleen is a life-threatening condition and requires emergency treatment as it can result in serious internal bleeding. It is usually caused by a strong blow to the abdomen – during a car crash, a fistfight or a sporting accident.
Signs and symptoms of a ruptured spleen include:
Pain in the upper left part of the abdomen.
Tenderness in the abdominal area, especially when touched.
Confusion, fainting, blurred vision, lightheadedness – these are the results of bleeding.
In severe cases, a ruptured spleen will require an emergency surgery. If the injury is less serious, it might heal with time and rest. The diagnosis is determined by a physical examination, by checking the fluid in your abdomen and performing imaging tests (for example, a CT).
Primary spleen cancers – cancers that originate in the spleen – are rare. When they do happen, they are usually lymphomas, which are blood cancers that attack the lymphatic system.
More commonly, the spleen gets invaded by cancers that start elsewhere and progress to other parts of the body. Leukemia, lung and stomach cancer can infiltrate the spleen.
Symptoms of spleen cancer:
- Cold-like symptoms
- Pain in the upper left part of the abdomen
- A sensation of fullness.
- Enlarged spleen (see above).
- The treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer.
Alternative views of the spleen
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the spleen is believed to be the home of your emotional worries and is linked to stress and anxiety. The TCM practitioners connect the spleen to food processing and explain that if the spleen doesn’t get the right nutrients, this can result in problems with the blood and qi (life energy).
The treatment consists of dietary changes and traditional herbs. This regimen is supposed to improve the spleen’s health and reduce your anxiety levels.
As previously mentioned, the spleen is part of the lymphatic system and you can find below 10 natural ways to cleanse and boost your lymphatic system: Top 10 Natural Ways To Cleanse Your Lymphatic System