How big is spleen: What Does the Spleen Do?
Normal Spleen Size Depends on Weight and Gender
Your spleen is a small but hard-working organ hidden behind your stomach and under your diaphragm. It acts as a filter for your blood. Old, damaged, or abnormal red blood cells are caught in a maze of narrow tunnels within the spleen. Healthy red blood cells easily pass through the spleen and continue to circulate in your bloodstream.
The spleen can also filter out certain bacteria or viruses from your blood in support of the body’s immune system. When a disease-causing microorganism enters the bloodstream, your spleen and lymph nodes produce lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell capable of making antibodies to fight infections.
Unlike most other organs in your body, your spleen changes in size throughout your life — usually in response to illness or injury. A viral infection, such as mononucleosis, or a bacterial infection, such as syphilis, are among the conditions that can lead to an enlarged spleen.
The size of a normal, healthy spleen can vary considerably from person to person. Your sex and height can also affect its size. In general, an adult spleen is about 5 inches long, 3 inches wide, 1.5 inches thick, and weighs about 6 ounces.
Women tend to have smaller spleens than men, and taller people tend to have larger spleens than shorter people. In a study in the journal Radiology, researchers suggested that aside from men generally being taller than women, men also typically have greater red cell mass than women.
Your spleen, like the rest of your body, grows with age. Once you reach adulthood, however, your spleen tends to shrink slightly with each passing decade. The following is a list of the upper limit of normal spleen length by age up to 15 years. For boys and girls, there is relatively little difference in size, according to a study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology. The average spleen length by age was up to:
During a physical examination, your doctor can usually tell if your spleen is enlarged. A blood test to check your levels of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets may also be ordered to help diagnose the cause of a spleen enlargement.
Imaging tests, including ultrasound, help measure the size of your spleen and whether it’s crowding your other organs.
An abdominal ultrasound is often preferred for evaluating the spleen because it’s easy to do and doesn’t require any radiation. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of inside the body on a computer screen. An ultrasound “wand” is rubbed on the outside of the belly, which is coated with a special gel. This gel helps transmit the sound waves through the skin and to the parts inside the body.
Ultrasound can usually measure the length of the spleen along a center line (axis) accurately. It can also measure the width and thickness of the spleen, which can typically tell the doctor whether the organ is abnormally large or small. In most cases, however, the concern is about an enlarged spleen.
An abdominal ultrasound can help detect other conditions, too. Some of them include:
- abnormal liver function
- kidney stones
- enlargement of other organs, such as the liver or gallbladder
- abdominal aortic aneurysm (bulge in the main artery that supplies blood to most of the body)
- tumors or other suspicious growths anywhere in the abdominal area
Slight variances in spleen size are common and not a cause for concern. However, if you suspect your spleen is enlarged or you’re having any organ-related problems, see a doctor soon. If an infection is causing this temporary enlargement of the spleen, the sooner you get it diagnosed and treated, the better.
Treating the underlying cause of your spleen growth will usually cause it to return to a normal, healthy size. In very serious cases of spleen dysfunction, the organ can be removed. You will be at greater risk for infections, but that will only mean it’s even more important to keep up to date with vaccinations and other preventive steps, such as washing your hands thoroughly and regularly or avoiding people who may have a contagious infection.
Enlarged Spleen: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments
Written by Annie Stuart
Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 25, 2023
- Causes of an Enlarged Spleen
- Symptoms of an Enlarged Spleen
- Treatments for an Enlarged Spleen
What is the spleen and what causes an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly)?
The spleen sits under your rib cage in the upper left part of your abdomen toward your back. It is an organ that is part of the lymph system and works as a drainage network that defends your body against infection.
White blood cells produced in the spleen engulf bacteria, dead tissue, and foreign matter, removing them from the blood as blood passes through it. The spleen also maintains healthy red and white blood cells and platelets; platelets help your blood clot. The spleen filters blood, removing abnormal blood cells from the bloodstream.
The spleen is part of the lymph system and works as a drainage network that defends your body against infection. It is normally about the size of your fist.
A spleen is normally about the size of your fist. A doctor usually can’t feel it during an exam. But diseases can cause it to swell and become many times its normal size. Because the spleen is involved in many functions, many conditions may affect it.
An enlarged spleen is not always a sign of a problem. When a spleen becomes enlarged, though, it often means it has been doing its job but has become overactive. For example, sometimes the spleen is overactive in removing and destroying blood cells. This is called hypersplenism. It can happen for many reasons, including problems with too many platelets and other disorders of the blood.
An enlarged spleen can be caused by infections, cirrhosis and other liver diseases, blood diseases characterized by abnormal blood cells, problems with the lymph system, or other conditions.
Here are some common causes of an enlarged spleen:
- Viral infections, such as mononucleosis
- Parasitic infections, such as toxoplasmosis
- Bacterial infections, such as endocarditis (an infection of your heart’s valves)
- Leukemia, a cancer in which white blood cells displace normal blood cells
- Lymphoma, a cancer of lymph tissue, such as Hodgkin’s disease
Other causes of an enlarged spleen include:
- Inflammatory diseases such as sarcoidosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis
- Trauma, such as an injury during contact sports
- Cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the spleen
- A cyst, a noncancerous fluid-filled sac
- A large abscess, a pus-filled cavity usually caused by a bacterial infection
- Infiltrative diseases such as Gaucher disease, amyloidosis, or glycogen storage diseases
Most people don’t know they have an enlarged spleen because symptoms are rare. People usually find out about it during a physical exam. These are the most common symptoms of an enlarged spleen:
- Being unable to eat a large meal.
- Feeling discomfort, fullness, or pain on the upper left side of the abdomen; this pain may spread to your left shoulder.
If you have pain that is severe or gets worse when taking a deep breath, see your doctor right away.
If you have an enlarged spleen, you may develop other signs or symptoms, too. These are related to the underlying disease. They may include signs and symptoms such as:
- Weight loss
- Frequent infections
- Easy bleeding
Your doctor will ask you questions and do a physical exam to diagnose an enlarged, painful spleen. This involves palpating (examining by touch) your spleen. You will also likely need diagnostic tests to confirm the cause of the swollen spleen. These may include blood tests, an ultrasound, or computerized tomography (CT) scan. In some cases, other tests may be needed.
Limit any activities that could rupture your spleen, such as contact sports. A ruptured spleen can cause lots of blood loss and be life threatening. It’s important to seek treatment for the cause of your enlarged spleen. Left untreated, an enlarged spleen can lead to serious complications. In most cases, treatment of the underlying cause of the enlarged spleen can prevent removal of the spleen. In some cases, the spleen will need to be removed surgically (splenectomy).
If surgery is needed, a surgeon is likely to remove the spleen using laparoscopy rather than open surgery. This means the surgery is performed through small incisions. A laparoscope allows the surgeon to view and remove the spleen.
If your spleen is removed, you cannot effectively clear certain bacteria from your body and will be more vulnerable to certain infections. So vaccines or other medications are needed to prevent infection.
Spleen enlargement: why it is dangerous
Very often the question is asked, what is the reason for the enlargement of the spleen, what is the danger of such a violation. There are no unnecessary organs in the human body. Each of them has its own important functions. The spleen is needed in order for metabolic processes to occur correctly, it regulates hematopoiesis, cleanses the blood of bacteria, and is responsible for the level of its coagulability. This organ works in close connection with others, so the spleen enlarges when they function incorrectly. The spleen is especially clearly affected by disturbances in the functioning of the liver, its enlargement is one of the symptoms of such a serious disease as cirrhosis. The most common causes of cirrhosis are viral hepatitis B and C, fatty liver disease, and alcoholic liver disease. In these diseases, hepatocytes are replaced by fat cells or connective tissue. Gradually, the liver ceases to perform its functions, which leads to very serious consequences. Therefore, if deviations in the size of the spleen are detected, not only a consultation with a hepatologist is necessary, but also a comprehensive examination, necessarily with the use of liver elastometry.
The normal size of the spleen in adults is:
- length – from 8 to 15 centimeters;
- width – from 6 to 9 centimeters;
- thickness – from 4 to 6 centimeters;
- weight – 140-200 grams.
Having increased, this organ can even reach 500 grams, squeezing neighboring organs and causing pain. Since the spleen is located near the stomach, one of the symptoms of its abnormally large size is a feeling of heaviness in the stomach after eating, which appears even if very little is eaten. Sometimes pains are fixed in the abdomen or behind on the left side, this most likely means that some parts of the spleen are destroyed due to insufficient blood supply to them.
If we talk about the dangers of an enlarged spleen for the human body as a whole, it is first of all important to note that the processes of hematopoiesis in the body are disturbed. The enlarged organ gets the opportunity to “capture” more than usual, the number of blood cells. It would seem that this is good, the spleen will better cleanse the blood of diseased cells. But, unfortunately, this is not entirely true. Pathological blood cells, when too many of them are extracted, clog the spleen itself, from which it grows even more, but the blood filters worse and worse. As a result, the body begins to destroy not only pathological, but also healthy blood cells, destroy them. Danger threatens red blood cells, platelets and white blood cells.
In the case of a sharp decrease in the number of red blood cells, a person becomes ill with anemia. The destruction of leukocytes destroys the body’s immune system, a person begins to get sick with infectious diseases very often. A lack of platelets leads to a deterioration in blood clotting, which is also very dangerous.
Treatment of the spleen comes down to eliminating the cause of its enlargement, that is, it is necessary to cure the disease that led to failures. In extreme cases, the organ is removed, but this is highly undesirable, since immunity deteriorates significantly, because the blood is left without its filter, and, consequently, the risk of infectious diseases increases.
Important to know!
- What are the causes of hepatic steatosis?
- What is liver elastography?
- Which doctor should I contact for hepatitis B?
- What is liver fibroscan?
Spleen – what function does it perform in the body and when should this organ be removed?
The spleen is the largest organ of the immune system. Participates in the functioning of the blood circulation and lymphatic system.
The main mass of the spleen is reticular tissue, from the cells of which blood cells, hemocytes develop. The spleen breaks down old and dysfunctional erythrocytes (red blood cells). It is a blood depot organ – it accumulates a supply of blood, therefore, when the blood supply to the body decreases, and the need for blood increases, the body uses the blood reservoir from the spleen.
Interviewed by the head of the Department of Surgery of the National Center of Surgery, general surgeon Gigo Pichkhaia.
Where is the spleen located in the body?
The spleen is located in the left hypochondrium. The weight of the spleen of an adult is 150-200 grams, length 12 cm, width 7-8 cm.
Why is the spleen enlarged?
Enlargement of the spleen is called splenomegaly. This condition is caused by both pathological and non-pathological causes.
Several risk factors that cause splenomegaly, spleen enlargement:
- Bacterial, viral, parasitic infections;
- Malignant diseases of the blood;
- Cirrhosis and other diseases of the liver;
- Inflammatory diseases;
- Tumor lesions of the spleen;
- Metabolic disorders, etc.
What are the symptoms of enlarged spleen, splenomegaly
It should be noted that splenomegaly is rarely symptomatic, but the most common symptoms that are characterized by:
- Feeling of pain and heaviness in the left side of the abdomen;
- Feeling full before meals;
- Weight loss without cause;
- Frequent infectious diseases;
- Bleeding tendency;
- Anemia etc.
In addition, splenomegaly may be accompanied by symptoms that are caused by the underlying disease.
How does the surgeon examine the spleen, is it enlarged or not?
Splenomegaly (enlargement of the spleen) can be detected by examination (palpation), however, in order to determine the size and other pathological changes occurring in the spleen, an ultrasound examination of the abdominal cavity is done. Surgeons of the National Center of Surgery also use high-tech instrumental examinations, such as computed tomography of the abdominal cavity and magnetic resonance imaging. The need for these studies depends on what disease caused splenomegaly.
Sometimes additional tests are needed to determine the cause of an enlarged spleen, for example:
- Liver function tests and biopsy;
- Biopsy of bone marrow and lymph nodes;
When is the question of removal of the spleen, splenectomy?
The removal of the spleen is called a splenectomy in medical parlance.
The question of elective splenectomy, removal of the spleen during splenomegaly (enlargement of the spleen) arises when the enlargement of the spleen causes a number of pathological changes in the blood, for example, hematological diseases, pathologies caused by pressure on the abdominal organs, or when splenomegaly does not respond to treatment.
The National Center of Surgery successfully performs both open and laparoscopic splenectomy.
What is laparoscopy?
Laparoscopy is a type of surgical intervention during which the surgeon does not need to make large incisions on the skin to enter the abdominal cavity and small pelvis.
Practice shows that in comparison with the open method, in the case of laparoscopic splenectomy, blood loss is much less, the patient returns to an active lifestyle faster, the hospital stay in the postoperative period is short, and there is less risk of postoperative wound complications.
Life without a village zenki
Life without a spleen is possible, although the risk of infectious diseases without a spleen is greatly increased.