Spleen Surgery / Splenectomy
Spleen removal, also known as a splenectomy, involves the surgical removal of the entire spleen, an organ found in the upper left part of the abdomen. When only part of the spleen is removed, this is known as a partial splenectomy. The spleen is an integral part of the immune system. Not only does it produce white blood cells that are the key to fighting infection and foreign bodies, but it also acts as a repository for new red blood cells and a filter for old red blood cells and bacteria circulating in the blood.
A splenectomy is needed when the spleen becomes damaged or diseased. This can be due to significant trauma. While the spleen is somewhat protected by the rib cage, a significant blow can cause it to rupture necessitating removal. Various diseases and illnesses, including cancers, cysts, autoimmune disorders and blood disorders can also affect the spleen. Whatever the cause, the spleen may need to be removed.
Removing the Spleen
A splenectomy is performed in a minimally invasive manner, meaning several small incisions are made in abdomen through which specially made laparoscopic medical devices are passed. The spleen is removed via the largest of the access ports in the abdomen. The minimally invasive technique allows for better cosmetic results, less blood loss, fewer complications, and generally less pain with the same effectiveness as a traditional open procedure.
Laparoscopic spleen removal carries many of the same risks as the other surgeries that we perform at our office. Beyond the inherent risks of surgery and those associated with laparoscopic techniques, patients that have their spleens removed must be aware of a compromised immune response. This means that they may be particularly susceptible to certain infections. As a result, patients may often remain at the hospital for two, three or more days to help ensure that they do not develop life threatening infections.
Considerations of a spleen removal
Streptococcus, pneumonia, meningitis and other infections are more common and more virulent in those who have had their spleen removed. The complications associated with these infections often require hospitalization and can be life threatening severe cases. To counteract this concern, most patients who have their spleen removed require a more aggressive vaccination schedule than most. This is especially true of older, younger and immune-compromised patients.
After a splenectomy, it is very important for patients to monitor their health closely. Their medical team should be contacted at the first sign of infection to ensure that it Is treated promptly.
Interestingly, a small portion of the population may have what is known as an accessory spleen. This is essentially a second, smaller spleen, adjacent to the primary spleen. When the larger screen is removed, the accessory spleen may be stimulated to grow and can possibly replace the function of the now-removed, larger spleen.