ANSWERS: 1
  • <div class="section1"> Definition

    Hypersplenism is a type of disorder which causes the spleen to rapidly and prematurely destroy blood cells.

    Description

    The spleen is located in the upper left area of the abdomen. One of this organ's major functions is to remove blood cells from the body's bloodstream. In hypersplenism, its normal function accelerates, and it begins to automatically remove cells that may still be normal in function. Sometimes, the spleen will temporarily hold onto up to 90% of the body's platelets and 45% of the red blood cells. Hypersplenism may occur as a primary disease, leading to other complications, or as a secondary disease, resulting from an underlying disease or disorder. Hypersplenism is sometimes referred to as enlarged spleen (splenomegaly). An enlarged spleen is one of the symptoms of hypersplenism. What differentiates hypersplenism is its premature destruction of blood cells.

    Causes and symptoms

    Hypersplenism may be caused by a variety of disorders. Sometimes, it is brought on by a problem within the spleen itself and is referred to as primary hypersplenism. Secondary hypersplenism results from another disease such as chronic malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, or polycythemia vera, a blood disorder. Spleen disorders in general are almost always secondary in nature. Hypersplenism may also be caused by tumors.

    Symptoms of hypersplenism include easy bruising, easy contracting of bacterial diseases, fever, weakness, heart palpitations, and ulcerations of the mouth, legs and feet. Individuals may also bleed unexpectedly and heavily from the nose or other mucous membranes, and from the gastrointestinal or urinary tracts. Most patients will develop an enlarged spleen, anemia, leukopenia, or abnormally low white blood cell counts, or thrombocytopenia, a deficiency of circulating platelets in the blood. Other symptoms may be present that reflect the underlying disease that has caused hypersplenism.

    An enlarged spleen can be caused by a variety of diseases, including hemolytic anemia, liver cirrhosis, leukemia, malignant lymphoma and other infections and inflammatory diseases. Splenomegaly occurs in about 10% of systemic lupus erythematosus patients. Sometimes, it is caused by recent viral infection, such as mononucleosis. An enlarged spleen may cause pain in the upper left side of the abdomen and a premature feeling of fullness at meals.

    Diagnosis

    Diagnosis of hypersplenism begins with review of symptoms and patient history, and careful feeling (palpation) of the spleen. Sometimes, a physician can feel an enlarged spleen. X-ray studies, such as ultrasound and computed tomography scan (CT scan), may help diagnose an enlarged spleen and possible underlying causes, such as tumors. Blood tests indicate decreases in white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets. Another test measures red blood cells in the liver and spleen after injection of a radioactive substance, and indicates areas where the spleen is holding on to large numbers of red cells or is destroying them.

    Enlarged spleens are diagnosed using a combination of patient history, physical examination, including palpation of the spleen, if possible, and diagnostic tests. A history of fever and systemic symptoms may be present because of infection, malaria, or an inflammatory disorder. A complete blood count is taken to check counts of young red blood cells. Liver function tests, CT scans, and ultrasound exams can also help to detect an enlarged spleen.

    Treatment

    In secondary hypersplenism, the underlying disease must be treated to prevent further sequestration or destruction of blood cells, and possible spleen enlargement. Those therapies will be tried prior to removal of the spleen (splenectomy), which is avoided if possible. In severe cases, the spleen must be removed. Splenectomy will correct the effects of low blood cell concentrations in the blood.

    Prognosis

    Prognosis depends on the underlying cause and progression of the disease. Left untreated, spleen enlargement can lead to serious complications. Hypersplenism can also lead to complications due to decreased blood cell counts.

    Prevention

    Some of the underlying causes of hypersplenism or enlarged spleen can be prevented, such as certain forms of anemia and cirrhosis of the liver due to alcohol. In other cases, the hypersplenism may not be preventable, as it is a complication to an underlying disorder.

    Source: The Gale Group. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.

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