Enlarged Spleen (cont.)
Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Steven Doerr, MD
Steven Doerr, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Doerr received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated with his Medical Degree from the University Of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado in 1998 and completed his residency training in Emergency Medicine from Denver Health Medical Center in Denver, Colorado in 2002, where he also served as Chief Resident.
In this Article
- What is the spleen, and what is its function?
- What does the spleen look like, and where is it located in the body?
- What are the causes of an enlarged spleen?
- What type of pain, and where is the pain located with an enlarged spleen?
- What are other signs and symptoms of an enlarged spleen?
- How is the diagnosis of an enlarged spleen made?
- What is the treatment for an enlarged spleen?
- What complications are associated with an enlarged spleen?
- Can an enlarged spleen be prevented?
- What is the prognosis for someone with an enlarged spleen?
What type of pain, and where is the pain located with an enlarged spleen?
An enlarged spleen, by itself, usually does not cause any symptoms. Because of its location, should it enlarge, the spleen can irritate the diaphragm and cause hiccups and perhaps some pain in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen. It may also compress the stomach, causing the person to feel full after eating a small amount, and therefore unable to eat large meals.
What are other signs and symptoms of an enlarged spleen?
Often, it is not the splenomegaly itself that causes symptoms, but rather it is the symptoms of the underlying illness that causes splenomegaly. Individuals may develop weakness, fatigue and shortness of breath due to anemia (low red blood cell count). Bleeding may be due to thrombocytopenia (low platelet count). Infections may be more prevalent because of ineffective white blood cell function.
How is the diagnosis of an enlarged spleen made?
An enlarged spleen is most often found on physical examination. Either the health care practitioner is looking for an enlarged spleen because of a diagnosis that has already been made, or it is found incidentally when initially examining a patient (and it then serves as a clue to an underlying diagnosis).
With its location protected, beneath the left lower ribs, a normal spleen is usually not felt on physical exam, except in some unusually thin patients. As it enlarges, the spleen grows from the left upper quadrant of the abdomen towards the umbilicus (the belly button). Sometimes the doctor will ask the patient to roll on their right side to better attempt to feel the spleen. An enlarged spleen may not be able to be felt in obese patients.
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