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The spleen

A disease of the spleen can manifest itself either as an enlargement or a reduction in size of the spleen.


Enlargement of the spleen

An enlargement of the spleen (splenomegaly) can be caused by the following factors:

  • Viral, bacterial or parasitic infections
  • Immune system disorders (rheumatic diseases, lupus erythematosus)
  • Red blood cell disorders (sickle cell anemia, thalassemia)
  • Leukemia, lymphoma, and various other cancers
  • Liver cirrhosis, obstruction of the splenic vein, right heart failure


Reduction in size of the spleen

In most cases, the volume of the spleen also decreases with age and is therefore considered to be the norm variant. A small spleen can also indicate other diseases, such as processes in which the immune system is directed against the body (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, vasculitis and collagenosis). Even after a bone marrow transplant or chemotherapy, the spleen can be reduced in size.


Absence of the spleen

An absence of the spleen can either be congenital or it can have happened during surgical removal. You can survive without a spleen without any problems. However, people without a spleen are more likely to develop certain bacterial infections. Pneumococcal infections in particular pose a danger here. Therefore, people without a spleen should be vaccinated against pneumococci every 3 to 5 years.


Without a spleen, the number of thrombocytes (blood platelets) may also increase. Those affected tend to develop a thrombosis. Medicines can be used to counteract this. It is therefore very important that the blood count is checked at regular intervals.


The surgical removal of the spleen is usually done after an accident in which the spleen was injured. Since this organ is well supplied with blood, it can easily lead to bleeding in the abdomen, which makes surgical removal unavoidable.


Risk factors for spleen disease

Spleen disease usually occurs as a result of another disease. Bacterial and viral infections can damage the spleen, but also various liver diseases, autoimmune diseases or diseases of the blood system. Since the spleen is very susceptible to a tear, strong violence, for example in the form of an accident, also poses a danger.