The spleen acts as part of the immune system by filtering blood, recycling old red blood cells and storing platelets and white blood cells. Located in the upper left part of the abdomen, the spleen also helps to fight off certain bacteria that can cause pneumonia and meningitis. The surgical removal of the spleen is called a splenectomy.
Several health conditions may require a splenectomy, including:
- Thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
- Enlarged spleen (Splenomegaly)
- Ruptured spleen
- Genetic blood diseases
- Cancerous spleen
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Abscess or blood clot in the spleen
There are no definitive symptoms that indicate the need for spleen removal. A series of tests including blood work and a physical exam as well as imagery tests like X-ray, electrocardiogram (EKG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or a computed tomography (CT) scan might be performed to determine if a splenectomy is necessary.
Unless the spleen is abnormally enlarged and requires open surgery for its removal, GI Surgical Specialists surgeons will remove your spleen via laparoscopic or robotic splenectomy. In certain situations portions of the spleen can be preserved and only half removed. This is called a partial splenectomy.
During a splenectomy your surgeon will create three to five minor incisions in the abdomen and access the spleen with the use of a laparoscope, a thin, flexible tube with a light, camera and surgical tools attached to it. This splenectomy is less invasive than traditional open spleen surgery, helping patients experience reduced postoperative pain and complications.
Patients of splenectomy are able to return to a normal diet and activity level sooner thanks to the reduced hospital and recovery periods that minimally invasive treatment offers.
As with any surgical procedure, there are potential risks and complications with laparoscopic splenectomy that your surgeon will discuss with you. Since the spleen assists the body in warding off infection, those who undergo a splenectomy are often at an increased risk of illness and are encouraged to take preventative measures like vaccinations, flu shots and antibiotic use seriously.