Recovering After a Splenectomy
After surgery, you will stay in the hospital for a while so doctors can monitor your condition. You will receive fluids through a vein, called an intravenous (IV) line, and pain medications to ease any discomfort.
How long you stay in the hospital depends on which type of splenectomy you have. If you have an open splenectomy, you may be sent home within one week. Those who have a laparoscopic splenectomy are usually sent home sooner.
It will take about four to six weeks to recover from the procedure. Your surgeon may tell you not to take a bath for a while after surgery so the wounds can heal. Showers may be OK. Your health care team will tell you if you need to temporarily avoid any other activities, such as driving.
You can live without a spleen. But because the spleen plays a crucial role in the body's ability to fight off bacteria, living without the organ makes you more likely to develop infections, especially dangerous ones such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, and Haemophilus influenzae. These bacteria cause severe pneumonia, meningitis, and other serious infections. Vaccinations to cover these bacteria should ideally be given to patients about two weeks before planned surgery or roughly two weeks after emergency surgery. Your doctor may recommend other immunizations as well.
Infections after spleen removal usually develop quickly and make the person severely ill. They are referred to as overwhelming post-splenectomy infections, or OPSI. Such infections cause death in almost 50% of cases. Children under age 5 and people who have had their spleen removed in the last two years have the greatest chance for developing these life-threatening infections.
Other complications related to splenectomy include:
- Blood clot in the vein that carries blood to the liver
- Hernia at the incision site
- Infection at the incision site
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Lung collapse
- Injury to the pancreas, stomach, and colon
Call the doctor right away if you have any of the following after a splenectomy:
- Cough or shortness of breath
- Difficulty eating or drinking
- Increased swelling of the abdomen
- Pain that doesn't go away with prescribed medications
- Increasing redness, pain, or discharge (pus) at the incision site
- Nausea or vomiting that persists
- Fever over 101 degrees
Preventing Infections After Splenectomy
Children who have their spleen removed often need to take antibiotics every day to prevent them from developing bacterial infections. Adults usually do not need daily antibiotics, unless they become sick or there is a chance they could become sick. People who do not have a spleen who plan on traveling out of the country or to a place where medical help is not available should carry antibiotics to take as soon as they become sick. Also, if you have your spleen removed, ask your doctor about getting a flu shot each year.