Some people are born without a spleen or need to have it removed because of illness or injury.
The spleen is a fist-sized organ in the upper left side of the abdomen, next to the stomach and behind the left ribs.
It is an important part of the immune system, but one can survive without it. This is because the liver can take over many of the functions of the spleen.
This organ is a part of the immune system and helps in fighting off infections while also filtering damaged and old cells out of the bloodstream. If the spleen needs to be removed, the patient will undergo a surgical procedure called splenectomy.
A splenectomy is recommended as a treatment for some conditions that cause hypersplenism and might be recommended as a treatment for others. Hypersplenism is not a disease itself, but is more of a syndrome, or a collection of symptoms.
It means that the spleen has become overactive, enlarged, and is storing and destroying too many blood cells and platelets.
Conditions that can lead to the spleen not working properly:
- Conditions that affect the immune system (eg rheumatoid arthritis)
- some diseases of the blood (eg sickle cell disease); and
- some diseases where the normal tissue of the spleen is replaced by abnormal tissue (eg amyloidosis)
This can sometimes lead to the spleen not working properly. Patients can discuss with the doctors whether these are risks.
Surgery to remove the Spleen
Patients may need an operation to remove the spleen or splenectomy, if it’s not working properly or it’s damaged, diseased, or enlarged.
Sometimes just part of the spleen can be removed, which is called partial splenectomy. If there’s time, patients will be advised to have certain vaccinations before the operation. This is because spleen removal weakens the immune system and can make the patient more likely to get an infection.
- Laparoscopy – Most operations to remove spleens are carried out using keyhole surgery (laparoscopy).
- Open surgery – Open surgery is where one large cut is made. It may be needed if your spleen is too large or too damaged to be removed using keyhole surgery. Often, in emergencies, this is the preferred method.
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