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Spleen Pain Causes

Loveleena Rajeev Jan 22, 2019
The spleen is a lymphatic organ that is located in the upper-left part of the abdomen and is protected by the rib cage. It serves a variety of important functions in the body. Read on to know the various causes that lead to spleen pain, along with the related symptoms and treatment options.

Spleenless or Not!

As per the need of the hour, the spleen can be partially or completely removed from one's body. If a part of it is removed, it can sometimes go on to regenerate itself. One's bodily functions do not collapse if the whole spleen is removed, because the liver then takes over the responsibility of destroying the damaged and worn out red blood cells in the body.
The spleen is an organ which is a part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is an extensive network of vessels that carry clear fluid containing protein molecules, glucose, urea, salts, etc., throughout the body. The spleen helps the lymphatic system to drain out all infection-causing foreign bodies and damaged or worn out red blood cells.
It also aids in fighting specific kinds of bacteria which cause meningitis and pneumonia. The spleen is generally the size of an individual's fist, but it can vary in size. However, if it enlarges beyond normal, it becomes vulnerable to a rupture.
An enlarged spleen (splenomegaly) results in pain and discomfort and can be a vital telltale sign of an existing disease or disorder.

We will understand the various spleen pain causes by discussing the different health complications that can trigger them.

Etiology

As the spleen is a soft, spongy organ, responsible for many critical functions in the body, it can easily get damaged. Enlargement of the spleen is not considered healthy, as it can affect different vital functions.
Among other damaging effects, an enlarged spleen will filter both; normal red blood cells and damaged red blood cells, thereby reducing the number of healthy cells in the bloodstream.
It also traps platelets, that can clog the spleen, resulting in interference with the normal functioning of the lymphatic system. Some of the causes that lead to an enlarged spleen are as follows.
Mononucleosis - A viral infection with swollen lymph nodes and fever, and unnatural elevation of mononuclear monocytes in the blood.

Syphilis - A chronic bacterial infection usually contracted during sexual intercourse.

Endocarditis - An inflammation of the heart's inner lining and heart valves.
Toxoplasmosis - An infection caused by the one-celled parasite, 'Toxoplasma gondii. It usually occurs when transmitted from infected cats.

Cirrhosis - Normal liver cells get damaged and are replaced by scar tissues in this chronic degenerative disease.

Leukemia - A cancerous and progressive disease of the white blood cells.
Portal Hypertension - Rise in blood pressure due to a blockage in the liver (alcoholic cirrhosis), leading to collateral veins and an enlarged spleen.

Hodgkin's Disease - A malignant but often curable disorder in which the lymph tissues, spleen, and the liver enlarge progressively; a type of lymphoma.
Niemann-Pick Disease - A genetic metabolic disorder of lipid metamorphosis which is inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. It is portrayed by enlargement of blood-forming organs and gastrointestinal problems.
Gaucher's Disease - An uncommon hereditary metabolic disorder in which deposition of fatty molecules named cerebrosides takes place. Various organs like the spleen, bones, central nervous system (CNS), and the liver get affected by this disease.
Amyloidosis - This is an incurable, progressive metabolic disease in which abnormal deposits of protein gets deposited in more than one organ or tissues.

Rheumatoid Arthritis - An acute progressive autoimmune disease, along with inflamed joints and marked deformities.
Biliary Atresia - It is a condition in which the ducts that carry bile juice from the liver to the gallbladder get obstructed.

Cystic Fibrosis - A genetic disorder in which the digestive system, lungs, and sweat glands are affected. The pancreas is the main organ which is affected by this disease, in which a fibrous scar tissue develops.
Sclerosing Cholangitis - This is a chronic liver disease in which the bile ducts present inside and outside the liver get thickened, scarred, inflamed, and blocked.

Felty Syndrome - This syndrome is a combination of three conditions -- an enlarged spleen, extremely low white blood cell count, and rheumatoid arthritis.

A few blood disorders that may lead to splenomegaly:

Idiopathic Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) - The red blood cells are attacked by the immune system, and this leads to a lower count of these oxygen-transporting cells.

Hemoglobinopathies - A genetic blood disorder which is characterized by the existence of abnormal hemoglobin -- the oxygen-carrying protein of the red blood cells.
Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS) - This condition is associated with the decreased production of blood cells. The blood cells of individuals with MDS fail to mature normally.

Polycythemia Vera (PV) - A chronic blood disorder in which the bone marrow produces too many cells (white and red blood cells, and platelets), rapidly.
Apart from the mentioned conditions, a few other causes of spleen enlargement are:
  • Malaria, a parasitic infection caused by the sporozoan parasites.
  • Any condition where the premature destruction of red blood cells occurs.
  • Any injury or blow to the organ caused due to an accident or physical trauma.
  • A cyst or a large pus-filled abscess close to the spleen.
  • Any kind of intense pressure on the liver.
  • Pressure on the lymphatic vessels, due to the presence of blockage or clots.

Predominant Symptoms

The symptoms of this disorder do not exhibit themselves very prominently unless the organ is enlarged to a great extent and there is a risk of rupture. However, if one feels any combination of the following symptoms listed here, consult a doctor without further delay.
  • Sweating at night.
  • High susceptibility to infections.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Feeling of fullness even after having a small meal.
  • Fever and chills
  • Dull pain in the middle or upper back.
  • Constant feeling of fatigue and restlessness.
  • Frequent infections.
  • Easy bruising and bleeding.
Dial a doctor promptly if...
... a severe pain and discomfort are felt on the upper left side of the abdomen; and if the pain gets worse when you take a deep breath.

Diagnostic Options

A physical examination usually detects an enlarged spleen, Although, in a few individuals (slim built), even a normal and healthy spleen can be felt during an examination. The diagnosis of the enlarged spleen is affirmed with any of the following tests:
Blood Tests - to check the complete blood count
Magnetic Resonance Imagining (MRI) - in order to track the flow of blood through the spleen
Ultrasound or Computerized Tomography (CT Scan) - to check the sizing of the spleen, and also if it is herding the other organs

Treatment Options

The treatment for pain in the spleen will depend upon its respective cause and diagnosis. If the pain is being caused by an infection, then usually antibiotics are prescribed.
The cancers causing a spleen enlargement are treated with chemotherapy or radiation. Besides, if the spleen is close to a rupture, then splenectomy (surgical removal of the spleen) is the best treatment option available.
Spleen removal increases an individual's vulnerability to other infections, thus, certain vaccines and antibiotic medications are prescribed to boost the body's immune system.
A painful or enlarged spleen can be saved from a rupture if one modifies activities that can hurt the spleen. An untreated spleen can be life-threatening, so it is better to be aware of the symptoms and get the treatment done in the initial stages itself, to prevent further complications.
Disclaimer: This is purely for informative purposes, and should not be treated as a replacement for professional medical advice.