What is the Spleen Pain?

By Marie-José Bou Haroun

What is the Spleen?

The spleen is located below your left rib cage, next to your stomach. It is part of the lymph system. Even though it is important for your body, some people are born without it and others have to remove it due to health issues such as cancer, infections, and liver diseases.

It has many essential functions, for example, it filters the blood from abnormal red blood cells, it works as an immune system for the body by containing white blood cells that fight infections, as well as it controls the level of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.

What is Spleen Pain?

Your spleen is usually the size of your fist. If your doctor was able to feel it during an exam, it means that the spleen is enlarged. But an enlarged spleen (Splenomegaly) does not always indicate a serious health problem, it can mean that it is overactive, which is the case of hypersplenism.

The spleen is at risk of many problems other than splenomegaly, as there are also the conditions of splenic damage and splenic rupture. Spleen rupture is a rare condition because of its location, which keeps it safe and protected. Some of its symptoms are abdomen pain, tenderness, and nausea.

The pain is described as a feeling of discomfort in the upper left side of the abdomen, which might radiate to the left shoulder. Some other symptoms for this pain are not being able to eat, weight loss, anemia, and cardiovascular instability. Many treatments can fix spleen problems and it all depends on the diagnosis. The doctor might recommend removing the spleen if it were a serious problem. If not, the treatment could be limited to antibiotics.

What causes spleen pain?

Spleen pain can be caused by many factors such as, a ruptured or damaged spleen, an enlarged spleen, and a spleen that does not work properly. Here is a list of some of the possible reasons behind these conditions and their symptoms.

  • Viral infections (mononucleosis): This virus spreads through saliva, which explains its other appellation “the kissing disease”. But kissing is not the only thing that exposes you to this infection; for instance, when you share the same glass with someone who is already infected, you are likely to get infected too.

    Teens and adults experience its symptoms more than young children who are not even diagnosed sometimes. If you are infected with mononucleosis, you might feel like your throat is sore, you might experience a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and tonsils and a skin rash. In case your symptoms persist for more than two weeks, it is better for you to contact your healthcare provider.

  • Parasitic infections (toxoplasmosis): You usually get this infection from eating undercooked meat, being exposed to infected cat feces, or being transmitted during pregnancy. Its symptoms are close to those of a simple flu. Normally, people do not even realize they are infected but for those who have a weak immune system or who are enfants of infected mothers, it may lead to serious health problems.

    Symptoms are seizures, headache, lung problems, blurred vision, and confusion. If they are babies, you might notice the yellowing of their skin and eye infections.

  • Bacterial infections (endocarditis): It is a rare and deadly infection of the endocardium. The heart is well protected, and it is not easy to get infected, but people who have a prosthetic heart valve, congenital heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and damaged heart valves are more likely to get infected.

    It starts with a high temperature and chills; however, if it is left untreated, it may cause severe complications such as a stroke and heart failure. As a treatment, you either need antibiotics injected in the hospital or a surgery.

  • Leukemia: It is a blood cancer that is caused by an increase of white blood cells that do not function properly. There are several types; some are frequent in adults and others in children. Symptoms vary depending on the type of leukemia; they include weight loss, petechiae, excessive sweating, bone pain, and weakness.

    Sometimes you might not realize you have leukemia because the symptoms are not clear, but a normal blood test might indicate it. Reasons for this type of cancer are still unclear; they are a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

  • Lymphoma: It is a cancer that develops when lymphocytes lose control. It can affect the spleen, thymus gland, bone marrow, and lymph nodes. The most frequent types of lymphoma are Hodgkin's lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

    The signs may include shortness of breath, fatigue, fever, itchy skin, and lymph nodes swelling. Like every other cancer, doctors are still not sure about the reasons for this disease, but it happens when lymphocytes develop a genetic mutation. The mutation leads to an uncontrollable multiplication of deceased lymphocytes, therefore, the lymph nodes, spleen, and liver become swollen.

    Many factors increase the probability of having lymphoma; people over 55, specifically males, are more likely to get this type of cancer. In addition, people who have a weak immune system and are infected are at a high risk of getting lymphoma.

  • Sarcoidosis: It is a rare condition in which granulomas, small red patches, and swollen tissues, form in various organs. It usually hits the lungs and skin, and is triggered when your system responds to viruses, chemicals, or bacteria. When you have sarcoidosis, you are going to experience a persistent cough, red bumps on your skin, and shortness of breath.

    When the symptoms are mild, patients might not need treatment, but in case they are severe, medicines are prescribed to lessen the pain. It is important to note that no definite cure for this condition has been found yet.

  • Lupus: When your immune system attacks its own organs, it means you have an autoimmune disease called lupus. It causes inflammation that affects your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs. Lupus is hard to diagnose but one of its primary signs is the facial rash that does not happen in all lupus cases.

    Although there is still no cure for lupus, treatments to control the symptoms exist. Symptoms come and go; one the day the patient is fine, and the other day they might experience what is called “flares”. It includes butterfly-shaped rash on the face, dry eyes, skin lesions when exposed to sun, and memory loss.

  • Gaucher disease: It is an inherited disorder, passed genetically from parents to children. It may cause your spleen and liver to enlarge and not function properly. But that does not mean it cannot affect other organs as well.

    Symptoms of Gaucher disease can include yellow spots in the eyes, anemia, bruising, and seizures. This disease also has no cure, but its treatment is made of enzyme replacement therapy, bone marrow transplant, joint replacement surgery, blood transfusions, and medicines.

How to maintain the spleen’s health?

Protecting your spleen is not an easy task. However, you can prevent it by avoiding infections and injuries that lead to its damage. Here is a list of some tips that will make the process easier:

  • Personal items are not meant to be shared: Do not use anything after anyone, specifically personal items, and especially if they are infected. Also, do not drink after anyone.

  • Wear safety gears: If you are doing any type of sport where you might injure your spleen, it is advised to wear safety gear.

  • Have safe sex: Unprotected sex could lead to undesired consequences, such as sexually transmitted diseases. If you have multiple partners, especially if they are not tested, you should always use a condom during intercourse.

  • Do not drink too much alcohol: In order to protect your liver, drinking in moderation is a must.

How to diagnose spleen problems?

A physical exam usually detects an enlarged spleen. In order to confirm the diagnosis, the doctor might perform:

  • Blood tests to check the number of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets in your system.

  • Ultrasound or computerized tomography (CT) scan to check the size of the spleen.

  • Magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) to see the blood flow inside your spleen.

What are the treatments to cure spleen pain?

The treatment depends on the underlying problem, so each problem has its own cure.

  • Spleen removal surgery: If the enlarged spleen is leading to bad health problems, it would be better to remove it. When the condition is chronic, the best solution to recovery is the splenectomy. You will live a normal life without your spleen, but you should keep in mind that you would be more at risk for infections after its removal.

    Many things can be done before or after the surgery to make it smoother, such as:

    • Vaccinations before and after the surgery.

    • Taking antibiotics in case of infection.

    • Contacting your health care provider in sign of a fever.

    • Avoiding traveling to countries where certain diseases are spreading.

  • Avoid sports that demand contact.

  • Always wear a seatbelt.

  • Keep your vaccinations up to date

If you or anyone you know is suffering from pain, under your rib cage on your left side, call us today on (469) 562 4188 to book an appointment with our expert doctors.