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The spleen is an organ located on the left side of the body, toward the back of the abdominal cavity and up under the ribs, right next to the stomach. It is an important part of the immune system and is connected to the lymphatic system, serving as a filter for foreign matter and dead tissue that passes through it. This organ also works to produce white blood cells, and to maintain the health of the white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Spleen inflammation can result from many different conditions, including various types of infections, cancer, and problems with the liver, blood, or lymph system.
Infections are a common cause of spleen inflammation, and viral diseases such as mononucleosis and viral hepatitis can cause the spleen to become greatly enlarged. Endocarditis, a bacterial infection of the heart valve, and cat scratch disease, another type of bacterial infection, can both result in significant inflammation as well. Parasitic infections may also cause this condition, which is a common problem in a person who is infected with malaria or toxoplasmosis.
Some conditions that cause spleen inflammation can become bad enough that the spleen may eventually have to be removed. The blood disorder sickle cell anemia is one such illness. Cirrhosis of the liver is another example of a disease that can impact the spleen to the point that it becomes overly enlarged and can no longer function, possibly resulting in its removal.
Many kinds of cancers can result in significant inflammation in the spleen, with leukemia and lymphoma being two of the leading causes. Other cancers of the blood or lymph system will also usually cause an enlarged and inflamed spleen. Cancer from other parts of the body that metastasize, or spread, to the spleen are likely to result in inflammation and may also cause it to be removed.
In many cases a person who is dealing with spleen inflammation may not even be aware of the problem, because obvious symptoms are not common. Some signs indicating a potential problem are feeling full with very little food, and pain or a full feeling on the left side of the abdomen. Other symptoms that may arise in connection with spleen inflammation are typically caused by the underlying illness, such as anemia, weight loss, bleeding too easily, and a constant feeling of tiredness. If the spleen is significantly enlarged a doctor may be able to feel it during an examination, in which case it will probably be tender and sore. Blood tests and an ultrasound examination will most likely be used to confirm the diagnosis.