A normal spleen is an organ about the size of a fist and is found just under your ribcage on the left side of your body. Mononucleosis is just one of many conditions that can cause your spleen to enlarge. An enlarged spleen is known as splenomegaly.
Many people have no symptoms at all when their spleens are enlarged, but if you have other signs of mononucleosis, the doctor may palpate your spleen to see if it has become enlarged.
Sore throat, swollen glands, low grade fever, fatigue, in conjunction with a big spleen will suggest you may have mono. Blood tests are crucial to determine the cause so you can receive appropriate treatment.
In general, treatment for an enlarged spleen is supportive, and relies on treating the symptoms of the underlying condition. In addition, your doctor will suggest you avoid contact sports and hard physical labor in order to avoid a rupture of the spleen.
In very rare cases, spleen removal may be indicated, when a patient appears to be at high risk for a rupture of the organ. In the worst case scenario, the spleen does rupture, and this always entails the emergency removal of the organ. The operation to remove the spleen is known as a splenectomy.
While one can live a normal, active life without a spleen, the loss of the organ means you will be more susceptible to serious infections. This includes the possibility of the quite dangerous post-splenectomy infection which sometimes occurs just after surgery.
Knowing how the spleen works can help you to understand why its removal can bring on infections.
The spleen serves to clean out blood cells that have aged or sustained damage. The organ also produces lymphocytes, which are the white blood cells that fight infection.
Your spleen also stores blood and the platelet cells that act as clotting agents. Researchers speculate that the spleen may serve as a messenger between your brain and your immune system.
Once the spleen becomes enlarged, it begins to filter both damaged cells and normal red blood cells. That means a reduction in the number of healthy blood cells, which is defined as anemia.
An enlarged spleen will also store too large a number of platelets leading to a clogged spleen which can't function with any normalcy. If your spleen's blood supply becomes too low, the organ will sustain serious damage.
If your spleeen has been removed
If you must have your spleen removed, you will need to take precautions to lower the risk of infection. You will need to have a series of vaccinations before and after the operation.
You will be vaccinated with the pneumococcal, haemophilus inluenzae type b, and meningococcal vaccines. These vaccines protect against pneumonia, meningitis, and blood, bone, and joint infections.
You will need to take antibiotics after a splenectomy and in some cases, prophylactic antibiotic therapy will be necessary life-long. You will also be advised against traveling to areas of the world in which malaria and other serious infectious diseases are endemic.
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