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Ruptured Spleen

The spleen is a delicate, fist-sized organ under your left rib cage near your stomach. It contains special white blood cells that destroy bacteria and help your body fight infections. The spleen also makes red blood cells and helps remove, or filter, old ones from the body's circulation.

A layer of tissue entirely covers the spleen in a capsule-like fashion, except where veins and arteries enter the organ. This tissue, called the splenic capsule, helps protect the spleen from direct injury.

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What Is a Ruptured Spleen?

A ruptured spleen is an emergency medical condition that occurs when the capsule-like covering of the spleen breaks open, pouring blood into your abdominal area. Depending on the size of the rupture, a large amount of internal bleeding can occur.

Your doctor may refer to a ruptured spleen as a "splenic rupture."

What Causes a Ruptured Spleen?

The spleen can rupture when the abdomen suffers a severe direct blow or blunt trauma. The spleen is the most frequent organ to be damaged in blunt trauma injuries involving the abdomen. That's true regardless of your age.

The following are among the frequent causes of spleen injuries:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Injury during contact sports, such as football and hockey
  • Bicycle accidents, such as falling into your bicycle's handlebars
  • Domestic violence

Certain diseases and illnesses can also lead to a ruptured spleen. In such cases, the spleen becomes swollen and the capsule-like covering becomes thin. This makes the organ especially fragile and more likely to rupture if the abdomen receives a direct hit (such as forceful football tackle).

Diseases that increase the risk for a ruptured spleen include:

  • Infectious mononucleosis; in some cases, a ruptured spleen is the first sign of the illness
  • Blood (hematological) diseases such as hemolytic anemia and certain types of lymphoma
  • Malaria

Recent studies have also linked colonoscopy, a procedure that looks at the large intestine, to an increased risk of a ruptured spleen.

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