The spleen is present in the upper left side of the abdomen. It plays many important roles in the body, and various conditions and diseases can cause pain in the spleen. As such, if a person experiences spleen pain, it is advisable that they seek medical help.

The spleen is a fist-sized organ located in the upper left side of the abdomen, next to the stomach. It is a multifunctional organ that plays several roles in the body, including:

  • defending the body against pathogens
  • preventing infections
  • filtering the blood by removing old or damaged red blood cells (RBCs)
  • controlling the level of RBCs, white blood cells, and platelets
  • metabolizing iron

Many different conditions can affect the spleen and result in spleen pain. Therefore, it is important for a medical professional to diagnose the underlying cause of splenic pain and provide appropriate treatment.

In this article, we will discuss what spleen pain might indicate, common spleen problems, and their treatment options.

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Characteristic features of spleen pain include discomfort felt in the upper left side abdomen, pain behind the left ribs, and referred pain in the left shoulder. This area can be tender to the touch, and other symptoms may accompany pain, such as:

  • bloating
  • enlarged abdomen
  • feeling full quickly after eating only a little

Spleen pain can be an indication of several problems, including:

  • damage from a forceful blow
  • rupture
  • disease
  • enlargement

Spleen problems can arise for various reasons, including disease and injury.

Nonfunctioning spleen

Hyposplenia occurs when the spleen cannot perform its usual functions. This can happen as a result of various conditions, including:

  • blood-related conditions
  • infections
  • autoimmune disorders
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • circulatory disorders

Enlarged spleen

The spleen may become swollen and enlarged after an injury or infection. An enlarged spleen, or splenomegaly, may also indicate congestion or a blockage resulting from a growth or blood clot.

Potential reasons for an enlarged spleen include:

  • liver diseases, such as cirrhosis or hepatitis
  • cancer that affects immune cells, such as lymphoma
  • cancer that affects blood cells, such as leukemia
  • blood clots in the blood vessels supplying the spleen or liver
  • acute or chronic infection
  • immune disorders affecting connective tissues, such as rheumatoid arthritis

Damaged or ruptured spleen

A ruptured spleen can occur following an injury to the spleen or due to certain conditions. It is usually life threatening since it causes internal bleeding. This can happen at the time of the injury or several weeks later.

A ruptured spleen can cause pain and tenderness in the abdomen. Another sign is feeling dizzy as a result of low blood pressure due to blood loss.

Liver problems

Conditions affecting the liver can lead to reduced spleen function and affect immune response. Health experts may use the term hepatosplenomegaly to describe conditions that cause swelling and enlargement of the liver and spleen. Some of these conditions include:

  • hepatitis
  • cirrhosis
  • portal hypertension

Immune cell infiltration

The spleen is the largest immune organ in the body. It contains a T cell and B cell zone that generate antigen-specific immune responses, protecting the body against bloodborne infections.

Injury or diseases affecting the spleen can affect the immune response and disease progression. Several studies have found that immune and inflammatory cells play a role in the biological behavior of cancer.

Immune cell infiltration plays a role in disease progression and severity. However, recent studies have found that immune cells also contribute to the resolution of inflammation during infection.

There are several ways to treat spleen pain since it has several causes. Usually, treating the underlying condition can help alleviate symptoms.

Splenectomy

Splenectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the spleen. A surgeon will usually perform this procedure as a last resort. This occurs in cases such as:

  • splenic rupture
  • complications from infection
  • presence of abnormal growths, such as tumors and abscesses

Most of the time, surgeons perform splenectomies using laparoscopy, or keyhole surgery. However, in cases where the damage is too extensive or the spleen is too large, open surgery is favorable.

Before the surgery, a doctor will advise an individual to have certain routine vaccinations, such as:

This is because spleen removal can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of infection.

Antibiotics

A doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat a variety of acute and chronic infections that may affect spleen function, including:

Cancer treatment

Treatment options for spleen pain that results from cancer, such as lymphoma, leukemia, or spleen cancer, typically involve treatment of the cancer itself. This is because these cancers affect the hematological and immune systems, in which the spleen plays a significant role, or the spleen itself.

Postsurgery recovery depends on the surgical approach. Laparoscopic splenectomy has less scarring and less downtime. It is possible to go home the same day as the procedure or the day after. Open surgery requires a large incision on the abdomen, so an individual may spend a few days in the hospital before going home.

Full recovery usually takes a few weeks, and doctors will advise when an individual can go back to usual activities.

It is possible to live without the spleen since the liver can take over many of its functions. However, those without a spleen are more susceptible to infections, and the risk is higher in those with conditions affecting the immune system, such as HIV.

The spleen is an organ located in the upper left side of the abdomen, and it plays a major role in the hematology system and the body’s immune response. Several conditions can affect the spleen and cause pain, some caused by trauma and others by disease.

If an individual needs their spleen removed, it is possible to live without it. However, it may increase the risk of infection. As a result, it is important to take protective measures, such as vaccinations.