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Elective splenectomy

4-minute read

What is your spleen?

Your spleen is an organ in the upper left-hand side of your abdomen underneath your ribcage. Your spleen’s main functions are to filter old and damaged red blood cells from your blood, and to produce lymphocytes (special white blood cells) that fight infections.

What are the benefits of surgery?

The main reasons for having an elective (non-emergency) splenectomy are associated with problems with your blood.

  • Abnormal reduction in the number of red blood cells (anaemia) or blood platelets.
  • Abnormal increase in the number of white blood cells if you have leukaemia or lymphoma.

A large spleen is dangerous because there is a higher risk of it rupturing (bursting).

Illustration showing the position of the spleen.
The position of the spleen.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

If you have a problem with your blood, it is possible to have medication to cure or manage the problem.

It is possible to have regular blood transfusions but this is only a temporary measure.

What does the operation involve?

The operation is performed under a general anaesthetic and usually takes 1 to 2 hours.

Your surgeon will separate your spleen from the surrounding organs. They will tie off the blood supply to your spleen using metal clips. Your surgeon will place a bag around your spleen and remove it.

Laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery

Your surgeon will make a small cut on or near your belly button. They will make several small cuts on your abdomen so they can insert tubes (ports) into your abdomen. Your surgeon will insert surgical instruments through the ports along with a telescope so they can see inside your abdomen and perform the operation.

Open surgery

The operation is the same but it is performed through a larger cut on your upper abdomen or under your ribcage.

How can I prepare myself for the operation?

If you smoke, stopping smoking now may reduce your risk of developing complications and will improve your long-term health.

Try to maintain a healthy weight. You have a higher risk of developing complications if you are overweight.

Regular exercise should help to prepare you for the operation, help you to recover and improve your long-term health. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

If you have not had the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine, you may be at an increased risk of serious illness related to COVID-19 while you recover. Speak to your doctor or healthcare team if you would like to have the vaccine.

What complications can happen?

Some complications can be serious and can even cause death.

General complications of any operation

  • bleeding
  • infection of the surgical site (wound)
  • allergic reaction to the equipment, materials or medication
  • developing a hernia in the scar
  • blood clot in your leg
  • blood clot in your lung
  • chest infection

Specific complications of this operation

Keyhole surgery complications

  • surgical emphysema (a crackling sensation in your skin caused by trapped carbon dioxide)
  • damage to structures such as your bowel, liver or blood vessels
  • developing a hernia near one of the cuts used to insert the ports
  • gas embolism

Splenectomy complications

  • rise in platelet count
  • damage to your stomach or bowel
  • damage to your pancreas

Long-term problems​

  • tissues can join together in an abnormal way (adhesions)
  • post-splenectomy sepsis, which is a life-threatening infection caused by bacteria

Consequences of this procedure

  • pain
  • unsightly scarring of your skin

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home after 1 to 2 days if you had keyhole surgery or after 5 to 7 days if you had open surgery.

You should be able to return to work after 3 to 4 weeks, depending on how much surgery you need and your type of work.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Most people make a good recovery.

Summary

An elective splenectomy is usually recommended for certain problems with your blood and to remove the life-threatening risk of your spleen rupturing.

MPORTANT INFORMATION

The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you. Medical Illustration Copyright © Medical-Artist.com.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2022


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