What is the spleen?
Your spleen is an organ on the left side of your body, under your ribs. A healthy spleen is about the size of a fist. The spleen has 2 jobs:
- It helps your body fight infections.
- It helps remove old blood cells from your body.
The surgery to remove the spleen is called a splenectomy (sple NEK toh mee). If a doctor removes just part of the spleen, the surgery is called a partial splenectomy.
Who needs a splenectomy?
Below are some reasons for needing a splenectomy.
- Sickle cell disease—Sickled red blood cells can get trapped in the spleen and damage it. If this happens, the damaged spleen needs to be removed.
- Other blood diseases—Removing the spleen can improve blood counts.
- Enlarged spleen—If the spleen gets too large, it can break open and cause life-threatening bleeding.
Can you live without a spleen?
Yes. Other body organs can do the spleen’s job, so you can live a healthy life without a spleen. But, not having a spleen can make you more likely to get infections. If your child needs surgery to remove the spleen, the doctor will make sure your child has received all necessary vaccines before the surgery. After surgery, the doctor will prescribe daily antibiotics to help lower the risk of infections.
How do I prepare for my child’s splenectomy?
Your child’s health care team will talk with you about the risks and benefits of removing the spleen. You will also meet with members of the surgery team to discuss how the surgery is done and to get instructions for the day of the surgery. At least 2 weeks before surgery, your child will get any needed vaccines. The St. Jude Child Life staff can also help your child understand what will happen during surgery.
How long is the surgery, and what is the recovery like?
Removing the spleen takes 2 to 4 hours. It is usually done through one (1) or more very small incisions (cuts) in the belly. This makes recovery faster and less painful than for surgery with one (1) big incision.
Your child will likely spend 1 or 2 days in the hospital and then go home to rest and finish recovering. Most children are back to normal activities about 2 weeks after surgery. Once fully recovered, your child will not have any restrictions on daily activities as long as his blood counts are good. Your child will continue to see a hematologist one (1) to 2 times per year to check blood counts.
If you have questions, talk to your child’s doctor or nurse. To learn more about having a splenectomy, call the St. Jude Hematology Clinic at 901-595-5041. If you have an urgent need after hours or on weekends or holidays, please call the main St. Jude number at 901-595-3300 and ask to speak to the hematologist on call. If you are outside Memphis, dial toll-free 1-866-2STJUDE (1-866-278-5833).
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.
ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).
ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).
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