Enlarged Spleen (Splenomegaly)

What is an Enlarged Spleen?

Even though splenomegaly, or enlarged spleen, isn’t always indicative of a health problem, if your spleen does become enlarged, it is probably not performing as it should, and it may become overactive.

It will be important to determine the cause of your enlarged spleen, as there are several different reasons why this condition could occur. For example, some of the causes of splenomegaly include parasitic, viral, and bacterial infections, cancer, cirrhosis, liver diseases, blood diseases, problems with your lymphatic system, inflammatory diseases, trauma, cysts, abscesses, and infiltrative diseases.

What are the Symptoms of an Enlarged Spleen?

People don’t always realize they have splenomegaly because symptoms may not show. Instead, patients most commonly complain of bloating and abdominal pain.

Other patients suffer from anorexia and early satiety, as well as symptoms of gastric reflux. You may also feel pain, fullness, or discomfort along the upper left side of your abdomen, and the pain may even spread to the left shoulder.

Additional symptoms will be the result of the underlying cause of the enlargement. For example, you may have night sweats, frequent infections, fever, pallor, anemia, jaundice, weakness, weight loss, and fatigue. You may also bruise and/or bleed easily.

Enlarged Spleen Causes

An enlarged spleen may be caused by a host of separate conditions. Many of these causes are diseases that affect the spleen due to the fact that it is a part of the lymphatic system, which helps to regulate the body’s immune system.

Viral infections are a common cause of spleen enlargement. The viruses that cause mononucleosis are the main viral causes, and they may cause severe spleen enlargement in severe cases of mononucleosis.

Two bacterial infections are primarily noted for causing splenomegaly. The venereal disease syphilis may cause spleen enlargement in its advanced stages, and bacterial endocarditis often leads to an enlarged spleen.

Malaria is a parasitic type infection known to lead to spleen enlargement. This disease is spread by mosquitoes in places with a humid and tropical climate.

Any cancer of the blood or the lymphatic system may affect the spleen. Lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and leukemia are the primary culprits.

Diseases of the liver may also result in splenomegaly. Cirrhosis due to heavy drinking over a long period of time is the main cause of liver related spleen issues.

How is an Enlarged Spleen Treated?

If you are diagnosed with splenomegaly, you should limit activities, such as sports, that can potentially cause the spleen to rupture.

Treating the underlying cause of the enlargement is important, as leaving it untreated could result in serious complications.

Proper treatment can also prevent needing surgery to remove the spleen. However, surgery may be necessary for some patients.

Enlarged Spleen Prevention

There are some conditions that cause enlargement of the spleen that would be difficult if not impossible to prevent. However, there are some ways to prevent certain types of spleen enlargement.

Excessive alcohol consumption causes a whole host of medical conditions. By reducing alcohol consumption and drinking in moderation only, spleen enlargement can be avoided.

There are also medications available to help prevent malaria. These would need to be taken when one is traveling to areas of the world where malaria is endemic, especially sub-Saharan Africa.

Since several viral and bacterial infections lead to spleen enlargement, it is important to be germ conscious. Wash hands frequently throughout the day. Don’t use any cups or eating utensils directly after they’ve been used by another person, and avoid those who are coughing or sneezing.

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Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 19, 2017