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Enlarged Spleen: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Symptoms of an Enlarged Spleen

Most people don't know they have an enlarged spleen because symptoms are rare. People usually find out about it during a physical exam. These are the most common symptoms of an enlarged spleen:

  • Being unable to eat a large meal.
  • Feeling discomfort, fullness, or pain on the upper left side of the abdomen; this pain may spread to your left shoulder.

If you have pain that is severe or gets worse when taking a deep breath, see your doctor right away.

If you have an enlarged spleen, you may develop other signs or symptoms, too. These are related to the underlying disease. They may include signs and symptoms such as:

Your doctor will ask you questions and do a physical exam to diagnose an enlarged, painful spleen. This involves palpating (examining by touch) your spleen. You will also likely need diagnostic tests to confirm the cause of the swollen spleen. These may include blood tests, an ultrasound, or computerized tomography (CT) scan. In some cases, other tests may be needed.

Treatments for an Enlarged Spleen

Limit any activities that could rupture your spleen, such as contact sports. A ruptured spleen can cause lots of blood loss and be life threatening. It's important to seek treatment for the cause of your enlarged spleen. Left untreated, an enlarged spleen can lead to serious complications. In most cases, treatment of the underlying cause of the enlarged spleen can prevent removal of the spleen. In some cases, the spleen will need to be removed surgically (splenectomy).

If surgery is needed, a surgeon is likely to remove the spleen using laparoscopy rather than open surgery. This means the surgery is performed through small incisions. A laparoscope allows the surgeon to view and remove the spleen.

If your spleen is removed, you cannot effectively clear certain bacteria from your body and will be more vulnerable to certain infections. So vaccines or other medications are needed to prevent infection.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on May 23, 2014
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