Splenectomy is a surgical operation done to remove the spleen. The spleen discards old and damaged red blood cells. Red blood cells may be destroyed by a health condition like thalassemia or sickle cell disease. When the blood cells pass through the spleen, they are normally destroyed. This can leave the body with few red blood cells.
Some people have their spleen taken out to keep from losing many red blood cells. Others may need to have it taken out if the spleen is injured in a car accident or by another trauma.
The spleen aids the body to fight certain kinds of bacteria. If your spleen is taken out, your body will be less able to fight serious infections. So your doctor will recommend that you have:
- Vaccines: The pneumococcal, meningococcal, and Haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccines will help avert serious infections, such as pneumonia. If you know in advance that you will have your spleen taken out, plan to get these vaccines 2 weeks prior to your surgery. If you have your spleen taken out after a trauma, you can have the vaccines immediately after surgery as your doctor recommends.
- Antibiotics: Many people who have their spleen removed take antibiotics for a while. They may also need to take antibiotics each time they have a fever, which could be a sign of a serious bacterial infection. Talk to your medical doctor about what to do if you have a fever.
Types of spleen removal surgeries
A splenectomy may be done as a traditional open surgical operation or as a laparoscopic, or minimally invasive procedure. You will be sedated for either procedure.
A traditional open surgical operation entails making a cut down the center of your abdomen. The surgeon then shifts other tissues to take out your spleen. The cut is then closed with stitches. Open surgery is ideal if you have scar tissue from other surgical procedures or if your spleen has ruptured.
This type of surgical operation is minimally invasive and has a faster and less painful recovery time than open surgery. In a laparoscopic splenectomy, your surgeon makes just a few little incisions in your abdomen. A small camera is used to project a video of your spleen onto a monitor. Your doctor can then take out your spleen with small tools. They’ll then stitch up the little cuts. Your doctor may decide an open surgery is required after seeing your spleen on the camera.
Benefits of spleen removal
Removing your spleen is a major surgical procedure which leaves you with a compromised immune system. For this reason, it’s only done when truly necessary. The benefits of a splenectomy are that it can solve many health issues such as blood diseases, cancer, and infection that could not be treated any other way. Having a ruptured spleen taken out can save your life.
Risks involved in spleen removal
Risks of having any major surgical operation include:
- blood loss during the surgery
- allergic reactions or breathing difficulties from anesthesia
- the formation of blood clots
- stroke or heart attack
There are also risks involved in the removal of the spleen in particular. These include:
- formation of a blood clot in the vein that carries blood to your liver
- a hernia at the incision site
- an internal infection
- a collapsed lung
- damage to the organs close to your spleen, including the stomach, colon, and pancreas
- accumulation of pus under your diaphragm
Both open and laparoscopic splenectomies have risks.
Typical outcomes of a spleen removal
The outlook for a splenectomy varies greatly depending on the type and severity of the disease or injury that led to the surgery. Full recovery from a splenectomy normally takes about four to six weeks. You may only need to stay in the hospital for a few days after the surgery. Your doctor will tell you know when you can return to your regular activities.
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