Spleen—Diseases of the spleen

Spleen—Diseases of the spleen

Like other organs, the spleen can become diseased or injured. If you feel pain under the left costal arch, spleen swelling caused by a bacterial or viral infection can be the cause. If the pain radiates to the left shoulder or the left side of the neck, a ruptured spleen may be behind the symptoms. Such an injury can be caused, for example, by an accident. Find out more about typical diseases and injuries of the spleen here.

What diseases can affect the spleen?

Possible diseases of the spleen are:

  • swelling of the spleen
  • Milzriss
  • congestion of the spleen
  • OPSI-Syndrom
  • autoimmune diseases
  • Red blood cell abnormalities
  • Cancer

In the following section, we present the diseases of the spleen in more detail.


swelling of the spleen

If the spleen becomes very swollen, it is called splenomegaly. The spleen can be palpated under the left costal arch when it has swollen to twice its average size – this spleen swelling can be painful. Swelling of the spleen is usually a sign of an infection caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites, such as glandular fever, tuberculosis or malaria.

The increased activity of the immune system, which wants to ward off the invaders, leads to the enlargement of the spleen. Swelling of the spleen is joint but can also be caused by congestion (see below).

Leukaemia, a malignant change in the white blood cells, can also cause splenomegaly. In Gaucher’s fat storage disease, lipids are not broken down due to a defective enzyme but instead are deposited in the organs, for example, in the spleen. The spleen can swell up to 20 times its standard size.


The application of great force, for example, in an accident or a broken rib, can cause a rupture of the spleen. Since the spleen is very well supplied with blood, an injury quickly leads to significant blood loss. In many cases, surgical hemostasis is the only possible therapy; sometimes, the spleen has to be removed entirely (splenectomy) to stop the blood loss.

What is feared is the so-called two-stage spleen rupture,  in which the interior of the spleen first ruptures, and the heavy bleeding then causes the spleen, which is filled with blood, to burst its capsule at some point.


congestion of the spleen

Diseases of the liver, for example, cirrhosis of the liver or right-sided heart failure, change the blood circulation between the intestine and the liver, and so-called portal vein hypertension can develop. Since the spleen is also involved in this system, blood can back up in the spleen – causing the spleen to enlarge. This, in turn, leads to an increased breakdown of red blood cells.

OPSI-Syndrom (overwhelming post-splenectomy infection)

Hypersensitivity to specific bacterial pathogens, such as pneumococci (causative agents of pneumonia and meningitis), can occur in people with impaired spleen function or without a spleen. In rare cases, an infection with these bacteria then leads to a severe course of the disease with sepsis (blood poisoning) and a high mortality rate. Timely vaccination can protect against this.

autoimmune diseases

When our organism attacks its body components, an autoimmune disease develops. The antibodies, so-called autoantibodies, trigger chronic inflammation there. In collagen diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the target of attack is the connective tissue, including the spleen. In rheumatoid arthritis, the cartilage and bone structures, in particular, are destroyed by the autoantibodies. However, internal organs such as the spleen are also attacked and damaged due to the body’s faulty immune solid reaction.


Red blood cell abnormalities

Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited red blood cell disorder in which haemoglobin assumes a sickle-like shape. Only sickle cell haemoglobin is formed in the particularly severe form (homozygous); in the somewhat milder form (heterozygous), the haemoglobin also partly has the standard form. Sickle cell haemoglobin clogs small blood vessels and is more likely to get caught in the connective tissue network of the spleen, where it is broken down.

Thalassemia is also an inherited disease in which the production of haemoglobin is disrupted. The red blood pigment binds oxygen less well, so the organs are poorly supplied with oxygen. Here, too, the deformed erythrocytes get stuck more quickly in the network of the spleen and are increasingly broken down there. In both diseases, the spleen is sometimes surgically removed to prevent the increased breakdown of red blood cells.


Rarely, both benign and malignant tumours form in the spleen. Metastases from malignant tumours sometimes also settle in the spleen.

How can I protect and support my spleen?

Since the spleen is part of the immune system, it can be indirectly supported with a balanced diet and all rules of conduct that support the body’s defences – however, there are no particular recommendations regarding diet or behaviour.

In the Middle Ages, sulfur vapours were recommended for cleaning the liver and spleen. Fortunately, this therapy is no longer “up to date”. In traditional Chinese medicine, the spleen plays a significant role in our well-being: it is the ruler of bodily fluids. Bitter substances, which are contained in endive salad or chicory, for example, strengthen the spleen.

Chinese dietetics recommend garlic, onion fennel, radish and radishes to strengthen our immune system, including the spleen. You can also do something for your health with a delicious meal.

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