What is an Enlarged Spleen?
Splenomegaly is a condition that develops when the spleen becomes enlarged. It is commonly referred to as an enlarged spleen. The spleen is a bean-shaped structure located in the left topmost portion of the abdominal cavity beneath the diaphragm. It plays a key role in the immune system by storing white blood cells and aids in the manufacture of antibodies. The spleen is responsible for functions like reprocessing old red blood cells, recycling the iron in hemoglobin and filtering antibody-coated bacteria. Because of its involvement in many functions, the spleen is prone to many conditions (x).
An enlarged spleen may not cause any signs and symptoms itself, but it could be an indication of a fundamental illness that causes splenomegaly. It can be as a result of many disorders including viral infections, cirrhosis, blood cancer and anemia. An enlarged spleen can also be caused by too much pressure on the veins in the spleen or liver.
An individual with an enlarged spleen may experience symptoms like feeling a dull pain on the left side of the abdomen, feeling full early after a meal and being anemic. There may be no symptoms in some cases.
Enlarged Spleen Symptoms
There are no specific signs or symptoms associated with enlarged spleen, but some individuals may experience the following (x).
A person may have a feeling of fatigue or tiredness if the spleen starts to press on other organs. This is because it will affect the flow of oxygenated blood within the body. A decrease in healthy red blood cells can cause severe fatigue.
Some individuals may complain of nausea due to stomach displacement and pressure on the stomach as a result of the enlarged spleen.
A person with an enlarged spleen may feel full after only eating a small amount of food. This means that there will be a low intake of essential nutrients that are necessary for maintaining healthy body weight (x).
If the spleen becomes too big, it can begin to trap and store blood cells. Sometimes the anemia may be severe. Some symptoms of anemia include weakness, headache, feeling cold and shortness of breath (x).
An enlarged spleen can lower the number of healthy disease-fighting blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in the blood circulating the body. This increases the likelihood of infections.
Pain in the Abdomen
The pain is felt mainly on the upper left side of the abdomen where the spleen is located. The pain may extend to the back or to the shoulder blade.
Enlargement may cause the spleen to inappropriately deal with platelets, and this can lead to abnormal bleeding, bruising, red spots on the skin (“petechiae”), internal bleeding, rectal and vaginal bleeding (x).
This is the medical term for an overactive spleen. If the spleen is overactive, it gets rid of the blood cells too early and too quickly (x). It is a secondary process that can arise from splenomegaly. Some causes of hypersplenism include:
Causes of Enlarged Spleen
Chronic Liver Diseases
These include cirrhosis, a liver disease where scar tissue replaces the healthy live tissue. Cirrhosis caused by excessive consumption of alcohol as well as nonalcoholic cirrhosis can both causes an enlarged spleen. Hepatitis C is another liver disease that can cause an enlarged spleen. It causes inflammation of the liver (x).
Autoimmune diseases make the immune system mark organs like the spleen as foreign invaders and attacks them. It releases autoantibodies, a protein that attacks healthy cells. Health conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can cause widespread inflammation (x).
Gaucher is the result of a buildup of fatty substances in several body organs, especially the spleen and liver. This buildup causes the spleen to enlarge. This disease can be inherited (x). Symptoms include abdominal complaints as the abdomen becomes painfully distended as the spleen enlarges dramatically.
Enlarged Spleen Diagnosis
An enlarged spleen can be detected by a physical exam. The doctor can feel it by gently examining the left upper abdomen. Some tests that can help diagnose an enlarged spleen include:
These tests are done to check the number of platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells in the blood flowing within the body. Examining blood cells under a microscope shows their shape and size, which may give clues to the causes of the enlarged spleen (x).
Ultrasound or Computerized Tomography (CT) Scans
These tests are needed to establish how large the spleen is and whether it is crowding other organs. An x-ray of the abdomen may also show the size of the spleen (x).
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
This test provides an image that shows the size of the spleen and also traces the flow of blood within the organ (x).
Enlarged Spleen Treatment
This applies in cases where the spleen is enlarged but there are no symptoms and the cause can be located. The patient will be required to visit a doctor as soon as the symptoms appear (x).
Spleen Removal Surgery
This is referred to as a splenectomy. Surgery is used when the cause of an enlarged spleen cannot be determined or when there are serious complications. Removal of the spleen provides the best hope for recovery in critical or chronic cases. An individual can lead a normal life without the organ, but will more likely contract dangerous infections (x).
A ruptured spleen is a medical emergency that happens when the spleen develops a break on its surface. The spleen can rupture when there is a forceful blow to the abdomen. A ruptured spleen can cause life-threatening internal bleeding (x).
Several diseases can also cause a ruptured spleen. The spleen becomes swollen and its capsule-like covering becomes thick. The swollen spleen becomes fragile and prone to rupture should the abdomen get a direct hit. Some of these diseases include malaria, blood diseases, anemia and infectious mononucleosis. In rare cases, a ruptured spleen is a sign of infectious mononucleosis (x).
Symptoms of a Ruptured Spleen
- Blurred vision
Enlarged Spleen Remedies and Supplements
Any support you can lend you lymphatic system may help to assist the body in dealing with an enlarged spleen and that which causes is.
Omega-3 Fish Oils
Fish oil has vital omega-3 and vitamin B12 that the body requires for the production of red blood cells. Lack of this vitamin causes the body to produce abnormal red blood cells (x). The ideal serving size for fish oil softgels is 2 capsules, which should be taken anywhere from two to three times per day.
Turmeric is a great supplement to support general health, additionally it is an anti-oxidant. About 1,000 mg a day in one dose is recommended.
Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grain when you have an enlarged spleen provides the body with the nutrients it requires to fight diseases or underlying infections.
Any supplemental regimen should be discussed with a doctor before starting, especially if there are underlying conditions or existing medications.
The Bottom Line
A spleen is an organ that plays key roles in your body. Having an enlarged spleen could be a symptom of several other conditions. It is advisable that you seek medical care when you experience any symptom of splenomegaly so that the doctor can determine its cause. This will allow for diagnosis and a good treatment method for your condition. You can also check some of the supplements and remedies discussed in this article to help you tackle an enlarged spleen at home.