An enlarged spleen, called splenomegaly, is not a disease, but it shows an underlying disorder, which could range from chronic infections to blood cancers.
The function of the spleen is to remove old and/or damaged red blood cells from the bloodstream. When it enlarges, it stores more red blood cells, thus causing anemia. Sometimes, the spleen destroys the white blood cells and/or platelets, too.
An enlarged spleen does not cause many symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms of enlarged spleen may be mistaken for other medical conditions, which is due to the location of the spleen. The symptoms felt include:
- Tiredness, shortness of breath
- Feeling full
- Frequent infections as a result of too few white blood cells
- Tendency to bleed as a result of too few platelets
An enlarged spleen may be caused various factors:
- Infections (viral, bacterial, parasitic)
- Liver diseases
- Cancer (leukemia, lymphomas)
- Blood clot in the spleen veins
The risk factors for enlarged spleen are higher in:
- infected children and young adults
- people who travel to malaria-endemic areas
- people with liver or spleen diseases
Complications of an enlarged spleen arise when there is anemia due to low number of red and white blood cells and platelets. In this case, infections are more frequent.
Another complication is a ruptured spleen, occurring especially in car crashes. Heavy bleeding in the stomach must immediately be stopped by surgery.