The spleen is an organ approximately the size of a fist and is located on the left side of the body, above the stomach and below the rib cage. There are two different types of tissue in the spleen that support biological functions. The white pulp tissue supports the immune system by producing lymphocytes. These lymphocytes produce antibodies that fight infection. The red pulp tissue filters out unwanted materials like viruses and bacteria from blood. The red pulp also destroys red blood cells that are damaged, abnormal or too old to function correctly. It's important to know the signs of problems with the spleen so that medical attention can be sought when appropriate. For example, a swollen spleen is more easily ruptured that a normal spleen, and a ruptured spleen can lead to life-threatening internal bleeding.
Signs of Swollen Spleen
According to the Mayo Clinic, it's possible that an enlarged spleen will produce no signs or symptoms, but some signs can include pain in the upper left abdomen area. This pain can spread to the left shoulder. Even without eating, a person with an enlarged spleen can feel full because the spleen is pressing against the stomach. Frequent infections and bleeding easily are two signs of an enlarged spleen due to a degradation of the spleen functions. Other signs of an enlarged spleen are anemia and fatigue.
Signs of Ruptured Spleen
The positioning of the spleen in the body makes it susceptible to damage. For example, fistfights and automobile accidents can result in ruptured spleens. Abdominal pain is a sign of a ruptured or injured spleen. Tenderness in the abdominal area is another sign. Other signs of a ruptured spleen include confusion, fainting, blurred vision and feeling lightheaded, which are signs of low blood pressure. Low blood pressure can occur because a spleen is bleeding.
Signs of Pooling
For people with sickle cell anemia, sickle cells can pool in the spleen. A sign of this is pain in the abdomen. Pooling of sickle cells can also result in a sharp drop in hemoglobin, a condition that is life threatening. According to The Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center, the spleen can become so large as to fill the abdominal cavity. Signs of pooling include sudden weakness, pallor on the lips and other mucous membranes, shortness of breath and a rapid heart rate. This condition should receive immediate medical attention.