The spleen is a fist-sized organ that is part of the lymphatic system. It is located on the left side of the abdomen, above the stomach and directly underneath the ribs. A swollen or enlarged spleen, or splenomegaly, is not an illness but a condition that results because of an underlying illness. There are several conditions that can cause the spleen to swell and fill with blood: mononucleosis, leukaemia, liver cirrhosis and malaria. If the underlying condition can be treated, the spleen will often return to normal size. If not, a swollen spleen may need to be surgically removed.
Anemia and Fatigue
The spleen functions as part of the lymphatic system and is responsible for filtering the blood and maintaining healthy red and white blood cells and platelets. Fatigue is a common symptom of a swollen spleen and is usually caused by anaemia. The Mayo Clinic explains that anaemia is a lack of red blood cells. When red blood cells are in short supply, adequate amounts of oxygen are not circulated through the body. This can lead to a loss of energy. If the swelling of the spleen is not addressed, the fatigue will worsen and cause further complications.
Pain is a symptom that may develop as the spleen swells and stretches. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, spleen swelling often causes pain in the upper left portion of the abdominal cavity. At times, the pain may radiate into the left shoulder and also spread to the back flank area. The pain associated with a swollen spleen may result in breathing difficulties, especially if the pain worsens each time a deep breath is taken.
When the spleen is swollen, it may press against the stomach and cause a feeling of fullness even when small amounts of food are eaten. The Georgia Department of Community Health explains that the pressure placed on the stomach can make it feel like large amounts of food have been eaten when in fact no food may have been eaten at all. As a result, weight loss can occur.
As the spleen swells, it hoards excessive amounts of blood cells and platelets. Blood platelets play an essential role in coagulation and when there are not enough platelets available to do the job, clotting stops and the risk of dangerous blood loss escalates. Not only are insufficient platelet counts catastrophic in the event of an injury, engorgement of the spleen with massive amounts of blood cells can cause the spleen to bleed out or even rupture.
An enlargement of the spleen can lead to complications that may warrant emergency attention. For instance, chronic infection, high fevers and severe pain can signal the conditions that may be life-threatening. It is also important to note that an enlarged spleen can tear or rupture as a result of trauma. Monotreatment.com reports that medical treatment is essential in order to stop the bleeding from a ruptured spleen.