Splenomegaly is a condition in which an individual’s spleen is larger than normal. The spleen is an organ located in the left upper abdomen that filters red blood cells and helps protect the body against certain types of infections. An enlarged spleen is generally caused by infection, blood diseases, liver disease, or cancer. People at the highest risk of experiencing splenomegaly are those who have an active infection, have a metabolic disorder affecting the spleen or liver, or are exposed to malaria. The spleen of an affected individual may be felt by palpation during a physical examination. After splenomegaly is diagnosed, medical imaging and blood tests are often performed to help determine the cause and direct any treatment.
Individuals affected by splenomegaly may experience abdominal pain on the upper left side of the abdomen, hiccups, and difficulty eating large meals. Other symptoms include fatigue, more frequent bleeding, and repeated infections. Individuals with splenomegaly will often also have anemia, or a low number of circulating red blood cells. When the spleen is enlarged, healthy red blood cells are filtered in addition to old red blood cells. This decreases the number of healthy red blood cells in the bloodstream. If the spleen becomes too large, parts of the spleen may not receive enough blood supply and can be damaged. Complications of splenomegaly include severe infection or a ruptured spleen, which can be fatal.
For individuals with an enlarged spleen, physical activity should be avoided to prevent trauma that could lead to rupture. Treatment of splenomegaly will vary based on the cause. Antibiotics are used to treat any ongoing infections or to help prevent additional infections. In severe cases, part or all of the spleen may be surgically removed (splenectomy). If you or your child has been diagnosed with splenomegaly, talk to your doctor about the most appropriate treatment options.