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Spleen Removal

Alternate Names

  • splenectomy
  • Spleen and kidneys

Definition

Spleen removal, or splenectomy, involves surgically removing the spleen from the body. The spleen produces red blood cells and white blood cells in the body. It also stores blood. The spleen also filters out bacteria and old red blood cells from the blood. It is located to the upper left side of the abdomen, just in front of the stomach.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

A spleen removal is usually done on a person with a diseased or damaged spleen. Reasons for a removal include:
  • non-Hodgkin's or Hodgkin's lymphoma, cancers of the lymphatic system
  • autoimmune hemolytic anemia, a condition in which the body develops antibodies that attack its own red blood cells
  • cysts on the spleen
  • idiopathic thrombocytopenia, a disorder in which a low platelet count results in abnormal bleeding
  • massive splenomegaly, an enlargement of the spleen
  • hereditary spherocytosis, a condition in which part of the blood cells take on a spherical shape causing jaundice and anemia
  • leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells
  • traumatic injury
  • blood clots that get into the spleen

How is the procedure performed?

The removal of a spleen is done under general anesthesia. This means that the person is put to sleep with medication, feels no pain, and has no awareness of the procedure. For a traditional (open) procedure, an incision (cut) is made in the abdomen. The blood vessels supplying blood to the spleen are tied off and cut. The surgeon then turns the spleen and lifts it out of the body.
The surgeon also checks the other organs in the abdomen, looking for injury, tumors, or other conditions. The abdomen and its blood supply are rechecked for bleeding. The other organs are put back in place, and the muscles are sutured where necessary. The incision is closed with sutures, staples, or clips.
Some individuals can have the spleen removed using laparoscopy, a procedure in which the abdomen is filled with carbon dioxide gas to enable the surgeon to see the organs more clearly. The instruments reach the surgical site through two or three much smaller cuts in the abdomen. The spleen is removed through a smaller incision as well. Recovery is faster and less complicated than with a traditional procedure.

Sources

Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, Fauci et al, 1998

Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness&Surgery, H. Griffith, M.D, 2000

The Merck Manual of Medical Information, 1997

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