Your spleen is very important; it protects you against germs infection, and when your spleen doesn’t work correctly or removed, you are at higher risk of infection. It is essential to take precautions to try to stop this from happening although these infections do not occur very often but can be life-threatening.
What is the spleen?
The spleen is an organ located underneath your ribs on the left side. It’s usually about 12×7 cm big and purplish red. The spleen has many functions, which include:
- Storing extra blood when it isn’t needed
- Removing blood cells that are old or damaged
- Filtering out the germs causing severe infections
- Creating some of the white blood cells that fight infection.
Why do individuals have their spleen removed?
People might have their spleen removed because:
- Trauma (accidents)
- Blood diseases.
What circumstances can lead to my spleen not working correctly (“functional hyposplenism”)?
Some diseases where the healthy tissue of the spleen is substituted with abnormal tissue (e.g., amyloidosis), conditions that affect the immune system (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis), some diseases of the blood (e.g., sickle cell disease) can sometimes result in the spleen not working correctly. You can contact your doctor to discuss if this is the risk.
What can happen if I don’t have a functional spleen (spleen doesn’t work correctly or has been removed)?
When your spleen doesn’t work correctly or has been removed, you are at higher risk of infection from certain types of bacteria, so your spleen is essential for your body’s defense against germs, although these infections do not happen very often, they can be life-threatening. It’s important to take extra precautions to try to prevent this from happening.
Analyse this risk using 100 individuals without functioning spleens were observed for a decade (10-year), Out of these 100 people between 1 and 5 of them would have a critical infection within that period. Few years after the spleen is removed, the risk was high in children and adults. The risk is high for the rest of the life of those who spleen is still present but doesn’t work correctly.
We have vaccines available to get vaccinated against some of the bacteria that can cause severe disease. It’s vital to talk with your doctor about how frequently you need these vaccinations, meningococcal vaccination, Hib vaccination and pneumococcal vaccination.
Some will need booster doses while others will be a once-off. We also recommend an annual seasonal influenza vaccination. Speak to travel doctor or your GP and ensure they know you don’t have a functional spleen because you may need additional vaccines when travelling overseas and the advice to you may be different from other members of your travelling party. Keep your vital signs in check at all times complications.
Know when to take antibiotic medication
After you have had your spleen removed, antibiotics are prescribed to be taken daily for the first two years, and some people may be advised to take them every day for life. However, if you are thinking of stopping the antibiotics, discuss it with your doctor and always make sure you have a contingency supply of antibiotics at hand. Young children may need to take antibiotics daily until they are vaccinated against pneumococcal infection.
Functional spleen people are advised to keep a full course of antibiotics at all times. As soon as you get any sign of infection such a sore throat, severe headache, like chills, fever, new cough or new abdominal pain, they should start taking the medication.
Immediately after taking the first dose, health advice should be asked to determine whether additional testing or treatment is necessary. Ensure the person who addresses you knows that you are at high risk of severe bacterial infection and understands that you don’t have a functional spleen.
Make sure you take any antibiotics and seek immediate medical treatment for any animal bites that split the skin. You will be given medication to prevent the infection until you have completed the course.
Being careful when travelling
Make sure you talk to a travel medicine centre or your doctor and ensure they know the fact that you don’t possess a functional spleen in their advice to you before departing on an overseas journey. Some diseases that are not present or common in Australia include malaria and some types of meningococcal disease but can severely affect people without a spleen so extra precautions, vaccinations or medication may be required to help you travel more safely.
You may be advised not to travel to an area where there is Falciparum malaria. Also, ensure you take along your emergency antibiotics with you at all times. If you are travelling to a country where English is not widely spoken search for someone who speaks or writes English to translate your patient advice card into the language of the country you visit.
Inform health care providers
Ensure you tell your health care providers that you don’t have a functional spleen most especially doctors and dentists. If you have become unwell, make sure you show your card to people because sometimes health care specialists need to be reminded that you can be at high risk of severe infection when not having a spleen. You should always carry your card along with you.