Your spleen is located behind your stomach and below your rib cage. As the largest organ of your lymphatic system, it filters blood as it circulates through the body. It is actually a critical part of your immune system. Combined with your lymph nodes, the spleen fights infections and prevents disease by removing cellular waste and other toxins from the bloodstream.
The spleen also regulates the amount of red blood cells and stores white blood cells and platelets, which helps blood clot in the case of an injury and helps efficiently move oxygen through the body. All of these functions allow your body to respond quickly to any threat of disease or injury.
Many variables can cause an enlarged spleen. It is typically the result of a clot or buildup of the waste materials that your spleen filters from your blood. Another possibility is that there is an abundance of the different components in your blood that the spleen should be regulating. Having an enlarged spleen is a condition known as Splenomegaly and is often a symptom of another underlying problem.
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Causes of Splenomegaly
Decreased blood flow – When blood flow is diminished through the splenic vein, this imbalance creates pressure that causes blood to back up. Liver disease and congestive heart failure can both impact blood flow.
Blood disorder – Blood disorders that result in the overproduction or damage of blood cells can enlarge the spleen. While it’s designed to filter out damaged cells, sometimes the spleen can’t keep up with the pace and frequency created by some blood disorders. Sickle cell disease, hemolytic anemia, and spherocytosis are all blood conditions that can lead to an enlarged spleen.
Metabolic disease – The way your body converts substances is called metabolism. When this process is made abnormal by disease, it affects things on the cellular level. Hurler syndrome, Gaucher disease, Neumann-Pick disease, and Amyloidosis all create abnormal buildups, deficiencies, and other changes that damage and enlarge the spleen.
Infection – Infections can take their toll on your spleen’s ability to function as a part of your immune system.
Cancer – Cancers that affect the different components of your blood can change how your spleen responds. Because your spleen targets and filters out damaged cells, keeping up with an increased number of abnormal cells can overwhelm it. Leukemia and lymphoma are two examples of cancer that can lead to Splenomegaly.
Symptoms of Splenomegaly
Because you can’t actually feel the enlargement of your spleen, there aren’t any symptoms. Splenomegaly is typically discovered during an examination for another issue. Some signs that may lead to a Splenomegaly diagnosis are shortness of breath and fatigue.
Most people that do experience symptoms cite pain in the upper left side of the abdomen, or not being able to eat a large meal.
Treatment of Splenomegaly
The treatment of an enlarged spleen is based on the underlying condition that caused it. Determining what caused the Splenomegaly and treating it will ultimately treat your spleen. Surgery is only required in severe cases like lymphoma when its enlarged size becomes destructive for red blood cells and platelets. This procedure is called a splenectomy and involves removing all or part of the spleen.