Spleen removal (splenectomy) is surgery to remove a diseased or damaged spleen. This organ is in the upper part of your belly, on the left side. It helps your body fight germs and infections. It also helps filter your blood.
Splenectomy; Laparoscopic splenectomy; Spleen removal - laparoscopic
The spleen is removed while you are under general anesthesia (asleep and pain-free). Your surgeon may do either an open splenectomy or a laparoscopic splenectomy.
In an open spleen removal:
- Your surgeon will make an incision (cut) in the middle of your belly or on the left side of the belly just below your ribs.
- Your surgeon will find your spleen and remove it.
- If you are also being treated for cancer, lymph nodes in your belly will be examined. They may also be removed.
- After checking carefully for bleeding in your belly, your surgeon will close your incision.
For laparoscopic spleen removal:
- A laparoscope is an instrument with a tiny camera and a light on the end. It allows your surgeon to see the area through just a small incision. Your surgeon will make three to four small cuts in your belly. The laparoscope will be inserted through one of the cuts. Other medical instruments will be inserted through the other cuts. Gas will be pumped into your belly to expand it. This gives your surgeon more space to work.
- Your surgeon will use the laparoscope and the other instruments to remove your spleen.
- Patients usually recover more quickly from laparoscopic surgery than from open surgery.
- Laparoscopic surgery is not for everyone. Ask your doctor if it may be right for you.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
Some conditions that may require spleen removal are:
- Trauma to the spleen
- Blood clot (thrombosis) in the blood vessels of the spleen
- Diseases or disorders of blood cells, such as idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura (ITP), hereditary spherocytosis, thalassemia, hemolytic anemia, and hereditary elliptocytosis. These are all rare conditions.
- Sickle cell anemia
- Abscess or cyst in the spleen
- Lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease, and leukemia
- Other tumors or cancers that affect the spleen
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Splenic artery aneurysm (rare)
Risks for any surgery are:
- Blood clots in the legs that may travel to the lungs
- Breathing problems
- Infection, including in the surgical wound, lungs (pneumonia), bladder, or kidney
- Blood loss
- Heart attack or stroke during surgery
- Reactions to medicines
The risks or problems that may occur during or soon after this surgery are:
- Injury to nearby organs, such as the pancreas, stomach, and colon
- Increased risk for infection after splenectomy (post-splenectomy sepsis or other infections -- children are at higher risk than adults for infection)
- Collapsed lung
- Blood clot in the portal vein (an important vein that carries blood to the liver)
Risks are the same for both open and laparoscopic spleen removal.
Before the Procedure
You will have many visits with your doctor and several tests before you have surgery. Some of these are:
- A complete physical exam
- Screening blood tests, special imaging tests, and other tests to make sure you are healthy enough to have surgery
- Transfusions to receive extra red blood cells and platelets, if you need them
- Immunizations, such as pneumococcal (Pneumovax), meningococcal vaccine, Haemophilus vaccine, and flu vaccine
If you smoke, you should stop smoking several weeks before this surgery. Spleen removal is major surgery, and smoking will increase your risks of problems.
Always tell your doctor or nurse:
- If you are or might be pregnant
- What drugs, vitamins, and other supplements you are taking, even ones you bought without a prescription
During the week before your surgery:
- You may be asked to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), clopidogrel (Plavix), vitamin E, warfarin (Coumadin), and any other drugs like these.
- Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of your surgery.
On the day of your surgery:
- Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your surgery.
- Take the drugs your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
- Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
After the Procedure
You or your child will spend less than a week in the hospital. Your hospital stay may be only one or two days after a laparoscopic splenectomy. You should heal in four to six weeks.
The outcome of this surgery varies. It depends on what disease or injuries you have. People who do not have other severe injuries or medical problems usually recover after this surgery.
After your spleen is removed, you will be more likely to get infections. Talk with your doctor about getting needed vaccinations. Children especially may need to take antibiotic drugs to prevent infections. Most adults do not usually need antibiotics long-term.
Beauchamp RD, Holzman MD, Fabian TC, Weinberg JA. The spleen. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 56.
Camitta BM. Hyposplenism, splenic trauma, and splenectomy. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 487.
Cadili A, de Gara C. Complications of splenectomy. Am J Med. 2008;121(5):371-375.
Reviewed By: George F Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.