Spleen is a small organ that is located between the stomach and the diaphragm on the far left side of the upper abdomen. As blood passes through the spleen, the disease-causing agents such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites are trapped and filtered with the help of lymphocytes. It acts as a reservoir of the white blood cells and platelets and also performs the function of recycling the old red blood cells. Enlargement or rupturing of the spleen are both serious medical conditions that can cause pain in the upper-left quadrant of the abdomen. However, pain in this region may not always be a result of an injured, ruptured, or an enlarged spleen. There are times, when the pain might actually be referred from another part of the body. For instance pain in the upper-left quadrant that is experienced after meals could be a result of stomach disorders or problems associated with the gastrointestinal tract.
Medical Conditions that Affect the Spleen
Medically referred to as splenomegaly, the enlargement of the spleen, is one of the most common disorders that affects this organ. This condition might be attributed to bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections such as malaria, hepatitis, syphilis, endocarditis, mononucleosis, or tuberculosis. Medical conditions such as sickle cell anemia, leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, liver cirrhosis, or sarcoidosis could also cause splenomegaly.
When the spleen enlarges, it starts trapping blood cells and platelets. This leads to a dip in the levels of red blood cells and platelets in the bloodstream. The immune cells present in the spleen may also start destroying the healthy red blood cells in the process. Under such circumstances, one may experience spleen pain. Discomfort, fullness, pain might be felt around the upper-left quadrant of the abdomen. The pain might also spread to the left shoulder. Individuals affected by this condition find it difficult to have a large meal.
An enlarged spleen could even be a sign of hypersplenism, which is commonly referred to as an overactive spleen. Under such circumstances, the spleen begins to rapidly remove healthy blood cells. This condition could lead to the reduction in one or more types of blood cells and feeling of fullness soon after eating.
Pain could also be experienced in the event of trauma. Splenic infarct, which is a condition that is characterized by a blockage in a splenic artery that adversely affects the supply of oxygenated blood to the tissue, could also give rise to pain. If the blood supply is completely cut off, it could lead to the death of splenic tissue.
Can an Enlarged Spleen Cause Pain After Meals?
Since the spleen lies between the diaphragm and the stomach, an enlarged spleen is likely to press against the stomach. This could give rise to pain around the upper-left section of the abdomen. The pain might even radiate to the back or towards the left shoulder. The pressure on the stomach may also affects one's appetite. One may experience a feeling of fullness even without having a meal. The degree of discomfort or spleen pain will vary, depending on the extent of enlargement.
The spleen is normally about the size of a fist, however, it may increase about two to three times its size due to infections or diseases. If the spleen enlarges considerably, it will put more pressure on the stomach, thereby causing pain. Since spleen helps in protecting the body against the pathogens, spleen disorders could also affect the body's ability to defend itself from infections. This can give rise to a variety of distressing symptoms.
Pain experienced after meals could also be caused due to other conditions. Food poisoning, acid reflux disease, indigestion, inflamed stomach lining, inflamed pancreas, intestinal obstruction, gallstones, gas, bloating, or other abdominal problems may cause upper stomach pain after eating. It is therefore essential to find out whether the pain is referred from other parts of the body, or is arising from spleen. This can be ascertained with the help of diagnostic tests and imaging procedures.
Pain in and around the spleen after a meal may not always be caused due to spleen disorders. Therefore, medical assistance must be sought in order to ascertain the underlying cause of pain at the earliest. The treatment options will vary, depending on the underlying cause. While drug therapy might help in providing relief from pain, other treatment options might be recommended in some cases. In case of cancer, radiotherapy or chemotherapy will be suggested. If the spleen has enlarged considerably, and there is a risk of complications, surgical removal of spleen may be recommended. Though the spleen performs certain important functions, it is not considered to be a vital organ. The functions that it performs can be performed by the bone marrow, liver, and the lymph nodes in its absence.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.