Splenectomy: aka Removal of the Spleen, Spleen Removal, Laparoscopic Spleen Removal
What is it?
Splenectomy is removal of the spleen through surgery. Usually a splenectomy is required to remove the spleen because the spleen becomes damaged or because the spleen becomes diseased and enlarged to the point where keeping the spleen would do more harm than good.
The purpose of the spleen is to help the body fight infection. The spleen is a critical organ in the body and not one an individual would want to remove if possible. For the most part if someone is healthy the spleen is vital toward improving one’s immunity and for fighting off many bacterial infections. The spleen is on the left part of the abdomen, just under the ribcage of the diaphragm. Usually the spleen attaches at the stomach, the colon and part of the left kidney.
Usually if someone elects to remove their spleen the doctor will provide them with certain vaccines to help bolster their immune system. Many times if the surgery occurs due to an emergency, which is more commonly the case, a doctor will recommend the person gets vaccinated following the splenectomy.
The most common vaccinations include pneumonia, a bacterial infection that can prove life threatening. Most patients should take proper precautions to avoid infections following surgery. This can be as simple as following proper hand washing techniques. Because a splenectomy may be absolutely essential or life-saving, some patients won’t have a choice but to adopt better hygiene practices following surgery.
During the splenectomy, a surgeon will place a patient under general anesthesia. Then the surgeon creates a central incision in the abdomen, separates the spleen from the liver, the left kidney and colon and divides the blood supply to the spleen. Then the spleen is removed and the incision sealed off. Many patients can also undergo a laparoscopic splenectomy. In this procedure a surgeon places a smaller incision in the abdomen and inserts a small camera into this incision. The operation is much quicker, however not all patients are able to enjoy a laparoscopic splenectomy.
Find out from your doctor if you are a good candidate for a laparoscopic splenectomy. Most patients undergoing emergency spleen removal surgery will have to undergo a traditional open spleen removal surgery. In this procedure the patient generally will spend more time under general anesthesia, up to 2 hours usually and will spend up to 5 days in uncomplicated cases in the hospital recovering.
Alternatives to Surgery
There are alternatives to splenectomy including what many refer to as “splenic salvage” where a splenorraphy is performed and splenic tissue is re-implanted into the patient to try to help new spleen tissue grow to try to help prevent sepsis in patients at risk for splenectomy.
There are mixed reviews as to whether this procedure is actually helpful or beneficial to patients that may require a spleen removal. Be sure to find an experienced doctor to review your case individually when considering your alternatives to splenectomy.
Spleen resection surgery or transplantation may also be an alternative for some patients that may require a splenectomy. This may be a viable option provided a donor is available and one that is compatible. Patients undergoing this procedure will have to take medications for life to ensure the body does not reject the donor tissue.
Before the Operation
Some patients undergoing emergency splenectomy have no time to prepare for surgery. Others will follow basic precautions including avoiding smoking and NSAIDs. A surgeon will also provide patients with vaccines for certain diseases including pneumonia to help strengthen their immune system against bacterial infections prior to surgery.
After the Operation- At Home
Recovery in the hospital usually lasts up to 5 days during a traditional procedure. Patients undergoing a laparoscopic splenectomy may last only 3 days. Patients are encouraged to rest and recover as they can, and avoid unwanted risks including bleeding. Signs to watch out for include fever, weakness shortness of breath and pain.
Patients should avoid heaving lifting and straining for up to eight weeks. Walking up stairs, driving and showering are encouraged after the first week’s recovery.
There are many risks associated with a splenectomy. The spleen is responsible for fighting infections in the body, especially bacterial infections. Among the more common risks associated with splenectomy include:
- Breathing problems associated with the use of general anesthesia
- Blood clots
- Sepsis or blood infection
- Injury to other surrounding organs including the stomach or pancreas
A splenectomy is a somewhat rare procedure usually performed when injury or trauma occurs to the spleen, when the spleen spontaneously ruptures, or when patients elect the procedure. Some patients may elect to have a splenectomy because:
- They have lymphoma, a type of cancer that may enlarge the spleen
- They have a clot in the blood vessels in the spleen
- They have a certain type of anemia called hemolytic anemia
- They have too few platelets in the blood
Estimated Costs for Splenectomy
The costs of the splenectomy listed below are for a traditional splenectomy and do not include hospital stays or time spent in hospital recovery. These will vary from hospital to hospital and may vary depending on the country you stay in and whether you stay in a medical facility or private healthcare environment.