Doctor's Notes on Enlarged Spleen
The spleen is an organ in the upper left portion of the abdomen that serves as a filter for the bloodstream, stores red blood cells and platelets, and produces lymphocytes, part of the body’s immune system. Enlargement of the spleen is medically known as splenomegaly and occurs because of an underlying illness. Diseases and conditions that can cause an enlarged spleen are varied. Possible causes of splenomegaly include liver disease, certain cancers, infections, inflammatory conditions, and trauma.
An enlarged spleen itself typically does not cause signs or symptoms, but often, the presence of an enlarged spleen is associated with symptoms of the underlying disease that caused the enlargement. Some of the symptoms associated with the diseases that cause enlarged spleen can include weakness, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes), fever, weight loss, shortness of breath, easy bruising, or nausea and vomiting.
Splenomegaly does not have any specific symptoms. Vague abdominal pain and bloating are the most common, but still nonspecific, symptoms of an enlarged spleen. Some individuals with a very enlarged spleen may complain of early satiety (anorexia) and gastric reflux symptoms because of the stomach displacement and pressure on the stomach as a result of the enlarged spleen.
Otherwise, many symptoms associated with enlarged spleen are related to the underlying cause of the enlargement. These may include:
The causes of splenomegaly vary widely and range from malignancy (cancers), infections, congestion (increased blood flow), infiltration of the spleen from other diseases, inflammatory conditions, and blood cell diseases.
Some of the most common causes of an enlarged spleen include the following:
- liver disease (cirrhosis due to chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C, fatty liver, long standing alcohol abuse);
- blood cancers (lymphoma, leukemia, myelofibrosis);
- infections (mononucleosis, bacterial endocarditis, malaria, AIDS, mycobacterium, leishmania);
- abnormal blood flow and congestion (splenic vein thrombosis, portal vein obstruction, congestive heart failure);
- Gaucher disease (a lipid storage disease);
- blood cell disorders (sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, spherocytosis);
- Inflammatory disease (lupus, rheumatoid arthritis);
- idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP); and
- polycythemia vera.
The abdomen is an anatomical area that is bounded by the lower margin of the ribs and diaphragm above, the pelvic bone (pubic ramus) below, and the flanks on each side. Although abdominal pain can arise from the tissues of the abdominal wall that surround the abdominal cavity (such as the skin and abdominal wall muscles), the term abdominal pain generally is used to describe pain originating from organs within the abdominal cavity. Organs of the abdomen include the stomach, small intestine, colon, liver, gallbladder, spleen, and pancreas. Abdominal pain can range in intensity from a mild stomach ache to severe acute pain. The pain is often nonspecific and can be caused by a variety of conditions.
Pancreatitis : Test Your Medical IQ QuizQuestion
Pancreatitis is inflammation of an organ in the abdomen called the pancreas.See Answer
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.