Your spleen is an organ that doesn’t draw much attention unless there is a problem with it, however it is a very fascinating organ. Your spleen contains infection-fighting white blood cells, regulates red and white blood cell levels and helps to filter out old and damaged red blood cells. Knowing all this, you’d assume it is an essential organ, but it turns out your body can continue to function just fine without your spleen.
One of the most common problems that develops with your spleen is an issue that causes it to inflame or enlarge. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at some of the causes of an enlarged spleen, and we explain how a gastroenterologist can help treat the condition.
Causes And Symptoms Of An Enlarged Spleen
The most common cause of an enlarged spleen is a viral or bacterial infection. As the epicenter of white blood cell production, it makes sense that the spleen would be affected by the presence of an infection. Common infections that can lead to an enlarged spleen include mononucleosis, syphilis, endocarditis and parasitic infections like malaria. However, infection is not the only cause of an enlarged spleen. The condition can also develop as a result of other diseases, especially conditions that affect the liver, like cirrhosis, or blood disorders like anemia. Certain blood cancers and metabolic disorders can also cause the organ to inflame.
Your symptoms may make it obvious that you’re dealing with a condition that requires treatment, but the fact that your symptoms stem from an enlarged spleen may not be obvious. Because of this, if you’re dealing with any of the following conditions, you should seek out a medical diagnosis:
- Pain or pressure in the upper left abdomen area
- Discomfort that increases when breathing in
- Feeling full without eating or after eating a very small meal
- Frequent tiredness
- Easy bleeding
- Frequent infections
Treating an enlarged spleen is essential to prevent the possibility of a ruptured spleen, which can cause life-threatening complications.
Diagnosing and Treating Spleen Enlargement
If you are dealing with the above symptoms, or you believe you’re dealing with an infection that’s causing problems for your spleen, seek out a gastroenterologist as soon as possible. They’ll start by asking about your symptoms and then move forward with a physical exam that may involve putting light pressure on the skin above the spleen to see if symptoms arise. However, an enlarged spleen is most commonly diagnosed with an imaging test like an MRI or CT scan to visualize the organ or to examine blood flow through the organ. A blood test may also be ordered to determine whether the appropriate number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets are present in the body.
However, identifying the presence of an enlarged spleen is only half the battle. Your specialist also needs to uncover what’s causing the enlargement so that the root cause can be treated, which in turn allows the spleen to return to normal size. Sometimes this cause can be identified with the CT scan or MRI, but sometimes additional blood or bone marrow tests are required to figure out exactly what’s going on.
Treatment revolves around rectifying the underlying cause, which oftentimes is an infection. Taking antibiotics and medications can help to rid the body of the infection while the doctor simply keeps an eye on the spleen and you monitor symptoms. If the underlying cause is unknown or places you at a high risk for rupture, the doctor may recommend surgery.
Surgery to address an enlarged spleen is called a splenectomy, and it involves the entire removal of the organ. Your body learns how to adapt without the organ, but spleen removal will put you at an increased risk of infection for the remainder of your life, so it’s not a decision to be taken lightly. Many patients who undergo a splenectomy live completely normal lives, although they may take medications to help reduce their infection risk.
So if you are dealing with symptoms that suggest you may be battling an infection and an enlarged spleen, contact Dr. Bhatti and the team at Bhatti GI Consultants today to swiftly and safely help treat the issue.