The spleen is a purple colored organ measuring about 4-5 inches long and located in the upper left quadrant of the abdomen. The spleen is placed intact within the rib cage and hence it cannot be felt easily. The main function of the spleen is to purify the blood and identify and attack allergens and foreign particles. Thus it helps the immune system of the body. The white pulp of the spleen creates blood cells and immune cells and the red pulp purifies the blood and removes dead blood cells.
The spleen can be felt by your doctor when it becomes enlarged or inflamed. Splenomegaly is the medical term used to describe an enlarged spleen. It may cause pain the left abdomen and the pain may progress towards the left shoulder. In some people it may not cause any symptoms and gets detected in a routine physical examination.
Any pain felt in the left abdomen cannot be attributed to spleen alone. The spleen lies in close proximity to other organs like stomach, kidney and colon and any abnormality in these vital organs can cause pain in the left upper abdomen. If you have sharp pain in the left upper portion of the abdomen while breathing in or sneezing, it can be due to spleen problem or infection. The pain becomes worse after having large meals since the expanded stomach would exert pressure on the spleen.
Symptoms Of Inflamed Spleen :
An enlarged spleen can cause a feeling of fullness in the abdomen. The person may feel full with little eating since the enlarged spleen would press on the stomach. Pain can be felt in the left abdomen radiating towards the left shoulder. It can make you easily tired and make you prone to infections. The fresh blood cells get reduced in amount causing anemia and easy bleeding. In some people there may not be any symptoms.
Spleen Pain Causes :
- Enlargement of spleen can cause spleen pain but it seldom produces any symptom.
- Infection of spleen can occur due to bacteria or viruses or even parasites.
- Certain types of liver problems like liver cirrhosis can cause enlargement of spleen and pain.
- Other causes that contribute for enlargement of spleen include metabolic disorders, lymphoma and other types of blood cancers and blood clot in the veins of spleen.
- Spleen inflammation can largely affect its normal function. This would cause serious complications like reduction of healthy blood cells and entrapment of platelets.
- Splenomegaly would not cause sharp pain but only dull sensation of pain with discomfort.
- Spleen infraction can cause death of spleen tissue. This is an emergency situation which can become fatal if not given medical help promptly. Spleen infract can lead to reduced blood supply to the spleen causing further tissue death. Arterial block like embolism can cause spleen infract.
- Rupture of spleen can happen due to severe trauma or injury to the abdominal area. Car accidents can cause spleen rupture causing abnormal blood leakage into the abdominal cavity causing death.
- Similarly a rib fracture occurring in the 9th or 11th ribs can break the ribs which would eventually penetrate into the spleen causing spleen rupture. Weakening of spleenic capsule and severe infections of the spleen can also cause splenomegaly and rupture of spleen.
Who Are At Risk ?
Spleen enlargement can occur at any age due to infections like mononucleosis. People with serious metabolic disorders like Gaucher’s disease and Niemann disease and people who travel frequently to malaria endemic areas are at risk of splenomegaly.
An expert doctor can identify an enlarged spleen during physical examination. CT scan or ultrasound scan can help in ruling out any abnormality in the spleen. Radioactive dye is sent through the upper arm vein which moves into the body and also into the liver and spleen. Further conducting a computerized topography test will give a clear diagnosis.
Spleen Pain Treatment :
Spleen enlargement cannot be identified easily since it may not cause any signal. The doctor would look for underlying medical cause for splenomegaly. Blood test result may reveal presence of bacteria indicating bacterial infection. In that case antibiotics are prescribed. “Watch and wait” is the approach for treating enlarged spleen in cases with no symptoms. In case of serious complications the splenectomy (surgically removing the spleen) is to be done.