|: Spleen Injuries Can Be Very Dangerous
DEAR DR. PAUL: What does the spleen do? I recently
heard about a hockey player who had to have his spleen remove.
Can people live without a spleen?
DR. PAUL Answers: The spleen is an
organ found in the abdominal area, located just below the ribs
on the left hand side. Ordinarily, the spleen filters out infection
and other unwanted particles from the blood. The spleen is part
of the lymphatic system which plays an important role in protecting
the body. Just like lymph nodes, the spleen will grow in size
in the face of an infection. Infectious mononucleosis (mono),
a viral illness commonly seen in teenagers, is one of the most
common causes of spleen enlargement. The spleen enlarges as if
engulfs or literally "eats up" invading germs and other particles.
Other conditions that cause an enlarged spleen include and red
blood cell diseases such as Sickle Cell Anemia and Thalassemia
and more rarely, lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system). In
the case of blood diseases, the red cells are abnormal and die
off quicker and in a larger quantities than normal. The spleen
cleans up this so called "cell debris". In such cases of excessive
amounts of debris the spleen works overtime and becomes enlarged.
The same situation can occur in infections of red blood cells
such as Malaria. In this case, the malaria parasite enters into
the red blood cells and causes them to break up. Still in other
cases, for reasons we do not understand, the spleen works harder
than it should, collecting normal cells. An example is ITP (Idiopathic
Thrombocytopenic Purpura. In ITP the platelets, cells which help
clot our blood, get sequestered or collected by the spleen. The
result is that the number of platelets decreases to often dangerously
low numbers resulting in easy bleeding.
Now to your question about spleen injuries; Because of its location,
the spleen is prone to getting injured. The most common cause
of injury are car accidents. The spleen can either be injured
directly by the impact or by a fractured rib on the left side.
Less commonly, in contact sports such as ice hockey, during a
body check or slamming into the boards, the spleen can also be
injured. The impact of the injury can actually cause the spleen
to rupture, resulting in massive amounts of bleeding into the
abdominal area. This situation is potentially life threatening
and is considered a medical emergency. The only treatment, is
to remove the spleen and repair any other damage surgically. This
happened recently to a professional hockey player, who thankfully
survived the whole ordeal and is now fine. So, yes people can
live without a spleen. However, they are more prone to certain
infections, and will need to receive vaccinations or even preventative
On a final note, it is important to be aware that any injury to
the abdominal area or left side of the rib cage, can involve the
spleen. As a precaution, in cases where the spleen is temporarily
enlarged, like in mono, contact sports should be avoided completely.
Additionally, when participating in any contact sport appropriate,
well fitted protective equipment should always be worn.
The information provided in this site is
designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to
replace the advice and care of your child's physician, nor is
it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If
you suspect that your child has a medical condition, always
consult a physician.
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