What causes swollen spleen?

There are many causes of a swollen spleen. Infections such as mononucleosis are a common cause of swollen spleen. Some blood and liver diseases are also known to cause swollen spleens. A swollen spleen may also be the result of a serious condition such as leukemia (blood cancer).

Infectious causes of swollen spleen

A swollen spleen may be caused by viral, parasitic and bacterial infections including:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Mononucleosis (viral infection) or other viral infections
  • Parasite infections

Other causes of swollen spleen

Other causes of a swollen spleen include:

  • Amyloidosis
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Embolism of splenic blood vessels
  • Hemolytic anemia (destruction of red blood cells)
  • Hereditary spherocytosis (inherited disorder characterized by abnormally shaped red blood cells)
  • Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (disorder in which platelet levels are reduced)
  • Leukemia (cancer of the blood or bone marrow)
  • Lymphoma
  • Sarcoidosis (inflammatory disease most commonly affecting the lungs, skin and eyes)
  • Sickle cell disease (hereditary disorder of the hemoglobin)
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (disorder in which the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues)

Serious or life-threatening causes of swollen spleen

In some cases, swollen spleen may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include:

  • Acute hepatitis
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)
  • Tuberculosis (serious infection affecting the lungs and other organs)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of swollen spleen

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your swollen spleen including:

  • Do you have pain in your abdomen on the upper left side?
  • When did you first notice your swollen spleen?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

What are the potential complications of swollen spleen?

Because a swollen spleen can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Organ failure or dysfunction
  • Shock
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
  • Surgery to remove the spleen due to a serious infection or malignant condition


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  2. Spleen diseases. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/spleendiseases.html.
  3. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.
  4. Bope ET, Kellerman RD (Eds.) Conn’s Current Therapy. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2013.
  5. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.

What is swollen spleen?

A swollen spleen is an abnormally enlarged spleen. The spleen is an organ located in your abdomen on the left side. As part of the lymph system, it participates in fighting infection, as it houses numerous white blood cells. It is responsible for getting rid of old and damaged blood cells and filtering the blood in your body.

The medical term for a swollen spleen is splenomegaly. ... Read more about swollen spleenintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with swollen spleen?

Swollen spleen may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the spleen may also involve other body systems.

Common symptoms that may occur along with swollen spleen

Swollen spleen may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: May 7, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases

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