Healthy Spleen

The warriors of the body’s defense system are manufactured in the spleen. Those who have a weak spleen are vulnerable to serious infection. So if you are affected, the best option is to get treated as early as possible. 

Cancer survivors who have undergone radiation to the spleen or have an active chronic graft-versus-host disease due to a host cell transplant are prone to the risk of having a spleen that does not function efficiently. Serious infections happen in those who have their spleen removed.

How do I identify the signs of spleen infection?

Consult your doctor if you experience the following symptoms, 

  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Unusual tiredness

If you are experiencing a fever higher than 101°F, the following should be done,

Tell your doctor that your temperature is not going down even though you are taking antibiotics

Let them know that you do not have a spleen that is functioning

Tell them all the symptoms that you have been experiencing 

Have a blood sample taken for checking the blood count and culture

Get yourself an antibiotic shot into a vein or muscle until the results of the blood work come back

What are the steps that should be followed to prevent an infection?

If you are having your spleen removed or are at risk due to your spleen not working efficiently, you need to talk to your doctor about measures that need to be taken to prevent getting an infection.

Get yourself vaccinated:

You need to check with your doctor if you have or need a booster of the meningococcal, pneumococcal, and HIB vaccines. Most commonly doctors recommend the flu vaccine to help prevent bacterial infections that occur due to flu complications. Though vaccines are effective to prevent infections, they are not 100% effective.

Take the right antibiotics:

Antibiotics are prescribed to be taken to prevent serious infections caused due to bacteria. They are prescribed on a daily basis whereas some prescribe the pills at the first sign of infection. In some cases, the doctor will prescribe them only in conditions where it will be difficult to get the right medical care. 

The earlier, the better!

Consult your doctor even if you’re on antibiotics and have been experiencing fever, chills, or any other signs of infection. Waiting for the symptoms to go away on their own can be quite dangerous as bacterial infections are known to worsen immediately. 

What other precautions should I follow?

Not having an active and efficiently functioning spleen can make one vulnerable to an animal, human, and tick bites as well as increase their risk of getting malaria. 

Serious bacterial infections are caused by animal and human bites. If you get a bite that breaks the skin, you need to visit your doctor immediately for medical care and to get treated with antibiotics.

A germ called Babesia is transmitted through deer ticks. So if you are going out to places where there are more likely for ticks to be present, make sure you wear protective clothing and use an insect repellant. In case you get a tick bite, remove the tick immediately and get a consultation on what to do. 

Malaria is quite common in certain parts of the world and in case a situation arises where you need to travel there, get yourself an anti-malarial from your doctor. Always use insect repellent, netting, and protective clothing so that you do not get affected. 

What should I let my doctor know?

Whenever you visit your doctor or any other medical practitioners make sure to tell them that you have an inactive spleen. As for them, a medical alert bracelet or necklace will tell the medical workers that you do not have a functioning spleen in case an emergency situation arises and you are unable to communicate. Carry a wallet card that contains all the necessary information and guidelines for fever management in those who have a functioning spleen.

Problems in the spleen and spleen removal:

While some are born without a spleen and some have their spleen removed due to an illness or injury. The spleen is an organ that is the size of a fist and is located on the upper side of the abdomen behind our left ribs. It plays a major role in providing for the body’s immunity. Though survival is possible in the absence of the spleen, patients are more vulnerable to various bacterial and viral infections. In the absence of a spleen, the liver takes in most of the spleen’s functions. 

What is the function of a spleen?

The important functions performed by the spleen are, 

  • Fights the invading germs in the blood. The major components that make up the spleen are white blood cells that fight infection. 
  • Maintains control of the level of the blood cells 
  • Acts as a filtrating agent. Any old or damaged cells in the blood are removed. 

When the spleen does not work properly it malfunctions to remove the healthy blood cells. This can cause 

  • Anemia as the red blood cells are actively decreased
  • Bleeding and bruising, caused due to a lessened number of platelets. 
  • Highly vulnerable to any sort of infection as there are a reduced number of white blood cells

Spleen removal:

Spleen removal surgeries are done in cases if the individual is suffering from a damaged, diseased or enlarged spleen and it is known as splenectomy. 

Before you undergo this surgery, you may be advised to have certain vaccinations. This is because the process can weaken your immunity thus increasing your chances of suffering an infection. Spleen removal is done by laparoscopy which involves the procedure being done out of keyhole surgery or an open surgery which involves the process being done by making one large cut on the body 

Living without a spleen:

In the absence of the spleen, the liver takes up its function. This means that your body is still capable of fighting infections, germs, and bacteria. However, on the downside, there is a high risk of you quickly becoming infectious. It is worse in the cases of those having sickle cell anemia, coeliac disease, or any other health condition that affects your immune system. 

Prevention is better than cure. Follow these simple steps to prevent infections. 

  • Get yourself vaccinated against flu, pneumococcal infections, MenACWY and MenB.
  • Consumption of antibiotics in low doses is recommended particularly for children below the age of 16 and for the first 2yrs after your spleen is removed. 
  • Always be alert and look out for the signs of infection. 
  • Do not go to places where you are exposed to animal or tick bites.
  • Keep your medical practitioner informed about your spleen problems
  • Carry a medical ID wherever you go
  • If you are traveling abroad, always have your antibiotics close to you
  • Insect repellants are a must wherever you go

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