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?
Diseases of the spleen Medical term
– The spleen is a large lymphoid organ. It has an oval, slightly flat shape. The spleen is located in the region of the left hypochondrium, behind the stomach. It is in close proximity to the pancreas, colon, left kidney and slightly in contact with the diaphragm. The size of the spleen reaches 10-14 cm in length, 6-10 cm in width, and the thickness of the spleen is 3-4 cm.
The main part of this unique organ is represented by the so-called white and red pulp. The white pulp is a lymphoid tissue where lymphocytes originate, and the red pulp is mostly filled with erythrocytes. In addition to the important hematopoietic function for the human body, the spleen also produces antibodies, and also detects unnecessary harmful microorganisms and other foreign elements in the blood stream.
Since a certain breakdown of blood cells is constantly observed in the human body, the main function of the spleen is considered to be the necessary restoration of the number of cellular elements in the blood.
The spleen, as well as its adjacent organ, the pancreas, is most active in the morning from about 9 am to 11 am. If symptoms such as weakness in the legs, constant drowsiness during the day, loss of appetite, but at the same time a desire to taste sweets, memory impairment and general exhaustion of the brain are observed, we can talk about problems associated with these organs.
Types of diseases of the spleen
As a rule, primary diseases of the spleen occur quite rarely, much more often it is affected secondarily, more often than it happens with other organs. The following are the main dysfunctional conditions of the spleen that can be diagnosed as a disease.
Congenital malformations . There are cases when a person does not have a spleen from birth. There are also cases when the size of the spleen does not fit into the usual framework, its shape and structure are non-standard. Sometimes additional spleens are determined, there may even be several. If the position of the spleen is poorly fixed due to weak abdominal muscles, it can move in the abdominal cavity; this phenomenon in medicine is called “wandering spleen”, and it occurs more often in women than in men.
Spleen infarction is a phenomenon that occurs quite often, although the area of infarction is usually very small. Leukemia and some other infections contribute to the occurrence of a heart attack.
Torsion of the spleen (or torsion of the pedicle) requires mandatory intervention by the surgeon, as it leads to a serious violation of the blood circulation of this organ.
Abscesses . Causes of abscess of the spleen can be different – it can be spleen infarction or typhoid fever . As a rule, this process proceeds painlessly, which in most cases ends in self-healing.
Cysts . Different types of cysts can be observed in the spleen, however epithelial cysts are extremely rare. But serous cysts are observed more often, but they usually occur, like ruptures, as a result of a person receiving an injury.
Various degenerative irreversible processes . In old age, atrophy of the spleen often occurs.
Tumors . A typical tumor of the spleen is lymphosarcoma . Primary malignant tumors rarely affect the spleen, and metastases to the spleen are even rarer.
Enlargement of the spleen (so-called splenomegaly ). This may be due to various pathological conditions of the human body. With an increase in lymph nodes, with fever or jaundice, with an enlarged liver or severe anemia – in all these cases, splenomegaly . In the case of certain cardiovascular diseases, in infectious diseases – it can be measles, meningitis, scarlet fever, malaria, etc., in blood diseases – leukemia or hemolytic jaundice, an enlarged spleen may also occur.
Since splenomegaly is only a reaction of the body to another disease, it is first necessary to establish what caused this pathological condition of the organ.
Diagnosis of diseases of the spleen
How to diagnose this or that disease of the spleen? There are several medical methods for doing this.
Questioning method. When compiling the necessary anamnesis, it is necessary to pay attention to all chronic infections that the patient has had, and which could lead to an increase in the size of the spleen. Also, serious cardiovascular diseases, blood diseases, dangerous pathological conditions of the liver, etc. cannot be discounted. – if any have ever taken place in the patient’s medical history.
Inspection method. This method is not very effective, since it allows diagnosing an enlarged spleen only in case of its significant change in size to a large side. With such a pathology, the spleen emerges from under the ribs and on the left raises half of the abdominal wall so much that it can be seen by any person even with the naked eye.
Palpation method. This is the main method of examination of the spleen, which must be diagnosed. Palpation is best done with the patient lying on the right side or on the back; to relax the abdominal muscles, it is better to lie with your legs tucked in. With the help of the left hand, which must be placed in the region of 7 – 10 left ribs, it is necessary to fix the sternum in a fixed position. The right hand should lie flat on the stomach, at a right angle to the ribs. In this case, with your fingers in a bent position, you need to slightly press on the abdominal cavity.
When the patient takes a deep breath, the spleen moves towards the palpating hand and is directly under the fingers, so that you can feel the lower edge of the organ well.
As a rule, if you can feel the edge of the lymphoid organ with your fingers, you can assume that there is a pathological increase in its size. Although in practice, in some cases, in people with an excessively thin physique, especially in women, it is possible to determine the edge of a completely healthy spleen.
When carrying out the palpation method, one should focus on the available volumes of the spleen, its consistency, mobility, what kind of edge (serrated or even), how great is the sensitivity, etc.
Method of modern X-ray examination. In the presence of a large amount of gas in the large intestine and stomach, the spleen and its edges are seen much better. For this purpose, when performing X-rays of the spleen, the stomach or large intestine is tried to be artificially inflated.
Spleen puncture method. This method is used when the organ is greatly enlarged. Before making a puncture to the patient, he must take a deep breath and hold his breath. If this important condition is not met, the spleen is displaced to the side, and damage to the capsule can occur and heavy bleeding can begin.
Due to the similar unsafety of this diagnostic method, it is used only in cases of emergency and with extreme caution. The puncture is made with a very thin and sharp needle. As a result of the puncture, a few small drops of blood are obtained. Blood smears obtained from the spleen help determine the nature of the changes that have occurred in it.
Method of laboratory tests and blood tests. With a fairly large increase in the size of the spleen, it is imperative and necessary to conduct a complete blood test.
Prevention of diseases of the spleen
To prevent diseases of the spleen, first of all, it is necessary to lead a healthy lifestyle, not to start infectious diseases, to take the necessary measures to strengthen the immune system – in a word, to monitor the general condition of your body. Particular attention should be paid to protecting the abdomen and chest from various injuries and injuries. The most serious damage is caused to the spleen in the event of a severe bruise, a blow received in a fight or as a result of a serious traffic accident.
It is also necessary to periodically take blood tests and check the state of its indicators, it is also advisable not to forget about the correctness of your diet.