What is the spleen and what causes an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly)?
The spleen sits under your rib cage in the upper left part of your abdomen toward your back. It is an organ that is part of the lymph system and works as a drainage network that defends your body against infection.
There is no clear evidence to suggest that the stress of modern life or a steady diet of fast food causes ulcers in the stomach and small intestine, but they are nonetheless common in our society: About one out of every 10 Americans will suffer from the burning, gnawing abdominal pain of a peptic (or gastric) ulcer at some point in life.
Peptic ulcers are holes or breaks in the protective lining of the duodenum (the upper part of the small intestine) or the stomach -- areas that come into contact...
White blood cells produced in the spleen engulf bacteria, dead tissue, and foreign matter, removing them from the blood as blood passes through it. The spleen also maintains healthy red and white blood cells and platelets; platelets help your blood clot. The spleen filters blood, removing abnormal blood cells from the bloodstream.
A spleen is normally about the size of your fist. A doctor usually can't feel it during an exam. But diseases can cause it to swell and become many times its normal size. Because the spleen is involved in many functions, many conditions may affect it.
An enlarged spleen is not always a sign of a problem. When a spleen becomes enlarged, though, it often means it has been doing its job but has become overactive. For example, sometimes the spleen is overactive in removing and destroying blood cells. This is called hypersplenism. It can happen for many reasons, including problems with too many platelets and other disorders of the blood.
Causes of an Enlarged Spleen
An enlarged spleen can be caused by infections, cirrhosis and other liver diseases, blood diseases characterized by abnormal blood cells, problems with the lymph system, or other conditions.
Here are some common causes of an enlarged spleen:
Viral infections, such as mononucleosis
Parasitic infections, such as toxoplasmosis
Bacterial infections, such as endocarditis (an infection of your heart's valves)