Your spleen is a fist-sized organ located just under your left rib cage behind your stomach that helps improve your immune system via two main functions: storing blood cells until they’re needed and removing damaged and old blood cells from your bloodstream.
Several spleen disorders can lead to an enlarged spleen, which can’t perform well, endangering your life. A surgeon must partially or entirely remove the spleen in some cases – a surgical procedure known as a splenectomy.
The spleen is not necessary to live because other organs take over most of its functions. However, a splenectomy does diminish the immune system’s abilities, so vaccines and preventive methods may be essential to avoid infection and boost immunity.
Hypersplenism is a spleen disorder characterized by an overactive spleen, which means it is storing or removing too many blood cells. This can make it more challenging for your body to fight infections and may cause you to become anemic.
Hypersplenism can be primary (no known cause) or secondary. If it is secondary, it’s related to another disorder. Conditions that can cause hypersplenism include infections (malaria, tuberculosis), autoimmune diseases (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis), chronic liver diseases (hepatitis C, cirrhosis), cancer (lymphoma) or Gaucher disease.
Hypersplenism causes spleen enlargement, resulting in pain or fullness even if you only eat a little bit. You may also experience an increased frequency of illness and infection due to a compromised immune system. If you become anemic, you may experience weakness, shortness of breath, feeling cold and headaches.
If it’s primary hypersplenism, you may need a splenectomy or radiation to shrink the enlarged spleen. However, if it’s secondary hypersplenism, treating the underlying disorder may correct the condition, so you don’t need surgery. Danny Shouhed, M.D. specializes in spleen disorders and can help diagnose and treat your disease.
Spherocytosis is a genetic disorder resulting in spherical red blood cells. Usually, the cells are disc-shaped with a concave center. Therefore, the spleen filters out these malformed blood cells, resulting in anemia. In addition, the malformed cells can cause spleen enlargement as they become trapped in the organ. As a result, a splenectomy may be necessary.
Splenomegaly is spleen enlargement. It can increase the risk of rupture – which is life-threatening – and limit the organ’s function. Many infections and diseases can cause an enlarged spleen. Symptoms include pain radiating to the left shoulder, pressure in the upper left abdomen, reduced appetite, anemia, bleeding easily, fatigue and frequent illness or infections. However, there are no symptoms in some cases. The spleen may shrink on its own, but if not, surgery is recommended.
Idiopathic Thrombocytopenia Purpura
Idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura is a spleen or blood disorder that causes a low platelet count (below 100,000; normal range is 150-450k) due to immune system attacks. Platelets are an essential component in blood that helps thicken the blood to heal by clotting. Excessive internal and external bleeding can occur if platelets are too low. Other symptoms include easy bruising, tiny red dots on the skin, heavy menstruating, bleeding gums and nosebleeds.
Treatment for Spleen Disorders
A splenectomy is the last resort. There are non-surgical treatment options for spleen disorders. Dr. Shouhed will know what is right for you. If surgery is the only solution, rest assured that he is a highly experienced GI surgeon who specializes in robotic and laparoscopic surgery – one of the few that offers this type of minimally-invasive spleen removal surgery. Contact our office in Los Angeles to schedule a consultation.
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