Table of Contents
- The Spleen’s Role
- Understanding Enlarged Spleen
- Enlarged Spleen Symptoms
- Causes of an Enlarged Spleen
- Diagnosis and Treatment for Enlarged Spleen
- Natural Treatments for an Enlarged Spleen
Because an enlarged spleen often does not cause symptoms, you could have one and not even know it.
Many young adults have an enlarged spleen and are completely unaware of it.
Having an enlarged spleen is a sign of some other underlying problem, such as an infection or illness, so knowing your risks, how to spot the symptoms, and what to do about an enlarged spleen is useful for us all to know.
Our guide provides detailed information about the role your spleen plays in your overall health, how to know if you have an enlarged spleen, and what natural remedies are most effective at helping to keep your spleen healthy and functioning properly.
In order to help you understand how an enlarged spleen affects you and your health, let’s first examine a healthy spleen’s role in your body.
The Spleen’s Role
Your spleen is located in the upper part of your abdomen, on your left side.
It sits just below the rib cage and is oval in shape.
The spleen is a part of your lymphatic system.
This system supports the work of both your circulatory and immune systems, and the spleen plays a vital role in it.
The spleen’s main function is to filter your blood, as well as to produce the essential antibodies you need to fight pathogens in your body.
Your spleen plays a role in balancing the fluid levels in your body, helps to maintain your platelet count, and removes waste from many important tissues in your body.
Your spleen is responsible for controlling how many red blood cells you have circulating in your blood by removing worn-out cells from circulation so they can be replaced by new ones.
Finally, your spleen produces two types of white blood cells – lymphocytes and phagocytes – in support of your immune system.
When the spleen is experiencing problems, it becomes enlarged.
An enlarged spleen is at a higher risk for rupturing.
Because of its role as a filter, your spleen is vulnerable to different parasites and toxins in your system.
Your spleen is also sensitive to the chemicals in your diet, as well as those found in prescription medications and other drugs, much like your liver and gallbladder.
When your liver is not working at full capacity, your spleen can become overworked, too.
Taking care of your spleen is important, as the organ helps you avoid infection and illness, supports the health of joints and muscles throughout your life, and maintains your immune system.
When your spleen is not functioning properly or has become enlarged, you are more likely to suffer from anemia, fatigue, frequent infections, and problems with digestion and circulation.
How, then, does your spleen become unhealthy and enlarged?
Understanding Enlarged Spleen
When your spleen is enlarged, this is referred to as splenomegaly, which generally signals that your immune system is fighting off some type of illness.
As pathogens or other invaders are filtered out, and your immune system attempts to rid your body of them, your spleen can reach a point of maximum capacity and thus is no longer able to filter your blood properly or provide the necessary assistance to your immune system.
This can cause inflammation and swelling of the spleen, leading to its enlargement.
A normal spleen is roughly the size of a closed fist.
Many doctors never detect your spleen during a physical examination.
Your spleen can grow significantly in size, though, causing pain and other symptoms that may become noticeable to you or a doctor during a physical examination.
An enlarged spleen is generally considered a sign that something else is happening within your body, especially with your immune system.
An enlarged spleen is not always an immediate cause for concern, as it is part of the natural process of ridding your body of infection.
However, if your spleen is enlarged, your overall health should be monitored in case of a serious illness that you should treat.
Enlarged Spleen Symptoms
Most people with an enlarged spleen do not know it until their doctor discovers the condition during a physical exam.
Enlarged spleens sometimes cause few, if any, symptoms.
Your doctor does not usually detect your spleen upon examination unless it is swollen and protruding from its normal position behind your rib cage.
The symptoms of an enlarged spleen include the following (1):
- Feeling uncomfortable while eating, generally after larger meals
- Lack of energy or chronic fatigue
- Pain or tenderness in the upper left side of the abdomen, where the spleen is located
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pain in the upper left abdomen when breathing deeply
- Pain radiating from your abdomen to your left shoulder
- Symptoms mirroring those of anemia
- Bruising or bleeding easily
If your spleen has become damaged, due to illness or injury, it is more susceptible to future illnesses and can leave you feeling more fatigued, as well.
When the spleen is enlarged, this usually signals some type of problem, such as an infection, a disease, or other issues.
Not all causes of an enlarged spleen are serious, though.
Your doctor will likely need to conduct more tests to determine if your spleen is enlarged due to a medical problem or another reason.
Causes of an Enlarged Spleen
Your spleen can become enlarged for a number of different reasons.
Some of these are more serious than others.
Some concerning reasons your spleen may be enlarged include cirrhosis of the liver, alcoholism, and infections caused by a virus or parasite.
Other reasons your spleen may become enlarged include (2):
- Infections caused by bacteria
- Inflammation caused by diet
- Toxins such as preservatives, pesticides, and other chemicals
- A blood disorder
- Autoimmune diseases, such as arthritis
- Injury or trauma
- A disease affecting the lymphatic system
Infection is the most common cause of an enlarged spleen.
Increased white blood cell production can lead to swelling of this vital organ.
Parasitic diseases, such as leishmaniasis, can also cause your spleen to become enlarged.
Other common parasites that can cause splenic enlargement include toxoplasmosis, malaria, schistosomiasis, and visceral larva migrans.
Most of these parasites are only common outside of the U.S., so if you have been traveling overseas and are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, talk with your doctor.
Parasitic infections can be serious, so do not wait to seek treatment if you are concerned.
Another possible reason your spleen may be enlarged is cancer, especially cancer of the white blood cells, which is known as leukemia, and cancer of the lymphatic tissue, which is known as lymphoma.
Cells in the spleen are affected by many substances, including alcohol, medications, and recreational drugs.
Drugs can cause hemolysis, or the destruction of red blood cells, which can cause a decrease in your immune system’s function, as well as an enlarged spleen (3).
Because your spleen works in conjunction with other organs, when there are problems in other areas, your spleen can be affected.
Your liver is a prime example of this, as liver problems can lead to spleen malfunction, and the spleen can become enlarged.
When your liver is not able to do its job of filtering the blood, your spleen must work harder in this capacity, leading to possible enlargement (4).
Diagnosis and Treatment for Enlarged Spleen
If your physician thinks, upon physical examination, you may have an enlarged spleen, he or she may order additional tests.
Imaging, such as via ultrasound or CT scan, can help determine precisely how enlarged the organ is, and blood tests and other lab work can help your doctor pinpoint the underlying cause of the enlarged spleen.
The ultimate goal of any treatment is not only to address your symptoms but also to treat the underlying cause of your enlarged spleen.
This may mean targeting the bacterial, viral, or parasitic source of infection.
Treating an enlarged spleen can also include addressing problems in your diet or lifestyle that may be contributing to your illness.
An enlarged spleen is at greater risk for rupturing or, in the worst case, needing to be removed, so it is essential that you treat the cause of the enlargement.
Removing the spleen is always a last resort treatment.
While you can live without your spleen, its role in your immune and lymphatic systems means removal is not without future potential problems.
When you remove the spleen, you take away one of the body’s most important defenses against pathogens.
Those who undergo a splenectomy, or the removal of the spleen, are more likely to suffer from infections and become ill more easily in the future.
If you would like to keep your spleen healthy, as well as reduce the size of an enlarged spleen, there are many natural ways you can do this.
To heal a sick spleen, and to keep your spleen functioning well daily, you can follow some simple guidelines for natural treatment.
Natural Treatments for an Enlarged Spleen
When your spleen is enlarged, you are at risk for rupturing it.
Avoid impact, such as the kind sustained in contact sports, and limit others’ touching your abdomen.
Those who play sports like hockey, football, or wrestling are especially cautioned to refrain from these activities if they have an enlarged spleen.
If your spleen is enlarged, talk with your doctor about which activities you should avoid, and which are okay for you.
Car accidents are a leading cause of spleen injury, so always wear your seat belt while in a vehicle.
This will not only protect your spleen but may also save your life.
Nutrient-Dense Foods to Support Spleen Health
Eastern medicine holds the spleen in high regard as an important and essential organ for health and well-being.
The spleen’s role in your immune system is vital, as is the role it plays in your lymphatic system.
Your spleen also helps in other essential functions that give you energy and strength, including helping to create energy from the nutrients in the foods you eat.
Many Eastern medicine healers believe an unhealthy spleen is a leading contributor to anemia, fatigue, and other chronic symptoms.
Your spleen influences digestion, including the proper functioning of your stomach, liver, and colon.
By eating a healthy diet rich in nutrients, you can help keep your spleen healthy and working properly.
Antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and fluids are all part of a healthy diet that decreases inflammation, fights oxidative stress in your body, and can help heal an enlarged spleen.
Eating a healthy, nutrient-dense diet is an excellent strategy when your spleen is already enlarged, as this type of diet can help keep your problem from worsening.
When your spleen receives the right nutrients and fluids, it can more effectively carry out its duties in filtering your blood and providing nutrients to the rest of your body.
When your spleen is given healthy foods to contribute to digesting, it is not clogged with waste and toxins to filter from the blood.
Eating a healthy diet is good for all your organs and tissues, and your spleen is no exception.
A plant-based diet is also higher in water content, which is also helpful to your spleen, as it needs plenty of fluids to help filter your blood and flush unwanted materials from your system.
Healthy foods that provide essential nutrients and also lower inflammation include:
- Brightly-colored vegetables and fruits. Try to eat a variety of colors throughout your day.
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli
- Green, leafy vegetables
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like wild salmon and other cold-water fish
- Lean proteins
- Seeds and nuts, including flax, chia, and hemp seeds
- Un- or minimally-refined oils, including coconut and extra virgin olive oil
- Herbs and spices
If your spleen is enlarged, there are some foods that you should avoid, as they can make your situation worse.
These foods place additional stress on your immune and digestive systems.
Foods to avoid include:
- Refined sugars and foods high in sugar
- Foods with lots of preservatives or other chemicals
- Foods that commonly cause allergies, such as gluten, soy, dairy, eggs, and shellfish
- Foods containing high amounts of salt
- Refined vegetable oils, especially soybean, sunflower, safflower, and canola oils
Lower Stress to Help Your Spleen
Stress can affect all of your body’s systems, including digestive, lymphatic, and immune.
When under stress, your brain triggers the release of stress hormones; these can help you cope with stress but will also place a strain on your body systems, especially when your stress level remains high for extended periods.
If you are under chronic stress, you can weaken your immune system and raise the levels of inflammation in your body over time.
This can lead to digestive disorders and other health problems.
Lowering your stress is, therefore, a key strategy for staying healthy.
This could mean eliminating sources of stress, as well as finding ways to relax when you feel stressed out.
Engage in low-key, enjoyable activities to help you keep stress levels low, and to treat your spleen and other lymphatic organs more gently.
Exercise Supports Your Lymphatic System
Your lymphatic system requires movement from your body in order to drain properly and rid your body of all those waste products it filters out.
Being sedentary and not engaging in regular exercise makes it more difficult for this system to perform its necessary functions, meaning you will be more prone to illness and developing an enlarged spleen.
Regular exercise promotes healthy circulation, which keeps your blood moving and your spleen working well.
In addition to promoting better blood flow through your spleen, which filters your blood constantly, regular exercise also helps your digestive system work properly, which means more waste will get filtered out and more nutrients will be absorbed into your tissues.
Use Herbal Treatments
In addition to a healthy diet that includes both fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins, you can add herbs to your routine to help improve the health of your spleen.
These herbs are all excellent for reducing an enlarged spleen, as well as for keeping your spleen healthy and working properly when you are well.
- Carom Seeds and Aloe Vera Gel. First, mix equal amounts of carom seeds and aloe vera gel in a glass jar. To treat an enlarged spleen, take one teaspoon of this mixture twice per day. Store in the refrigerator covered with a tightly-sealed lid.
- Dried Figs and Vinegar. Begin by soaking 20 figs in a vinegar of your choice for one week. After each meal, eat one or two figs. This can help reduce both the swelling of an enlarged spleen as well as the associated pain and other symptoms.
- Nigella Seed Tea. Begin with one-quarter teaspoon of nigella seeds. Crush these with a mortar and pestle, then steep with one cup of boiling water. Drink this tea two to three times per day to alleviate an enlarged spleen.
- Jojoba Leaves. Place fresh jojoba leaves into three liters of boiling water. Reduce over high heat until only one liter of water remains. Strain out the leaves and allow the liquid to cool. Drink two teaspoons of this liquid each day until all the liquid is gone.
- Blackstrap Molasses. Blackstrap molasses is created when sugar cane is refined into other products. As the sugar is reduced and processed, what remains is a nutrient-rich compound known as blackstrap, which is high in potassium, manganese, magnesium, iron, and other essential minerals. All of these minerals support the health of your liver and spleen, which is excellent for when you have an enlarged spleen. Take one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses each day to treat the symptoms of an enlarged spleen.
Use Lymphatic-Supporting Supplements
Essential oils can help you decrease inflammation and improve immune system functioning so you are better able to fight infections and increase circulation.
The essential oils most effective at supporting lymphatic system tissues include frankincense, myrrh, lemon, oregano, and cypress.
Use these in your diffuser to promote a healthy lymphatic system.
You can also use essential oils to massage your abdomen and promote healing of your spleen.
Select a carrier oil of your choice, such as coconut or jojoba oil.
Combine several drops of any of the above essential oils with the carrier, then massage this mixture into your abdomen, focusing on the area just above where your spleen is located.
Taking supplements that support your liver and lymphatic system can also help reduce inflammation and swelling of the spleen.
Some useful supplements that help with detoxification, as well as liver and spleen health, include turmeric, burdock root, and digestive enzymes.
One of the best detoxification herbal supplements you can take, though, is milk thistle.
Milk thistle supports the elimination of built-up toxins and pollutants in your liver and spleen.
This includes substances from alcohol, drugs, medications, and other sources.
If you have an enlarged spleen, it is important to address the underlying cause of this swelling.
An infection, whether from bacteria, a virus, or a parasite, should be treated to ensure your future health.
Be sure to talk with your doctor about any travels in your recent past, as well as other potential points of exposure to pathogens that could lead to infection.
Your doctor may recommend additional tests or imaging to determine if your spleen is enlarged and to determine the cause of this enlargement.
Your spleen can become enlarged even when you have no symptoms and feel fine.
Not all instances of an enlarged spleen are cause for concern, as this symptom could just mean your body is doing what it needs to do to eliminate an infection.
However, when you start to experience other symptoms or notice pain in your abdominal area, you should see a doctor.
An enlarged spleen is usually caused by an infection, but injury can also make the spleen enlarged.
If your spleen continues to enlarge, it can rupture, which could lead to more serious problems.
While you can survive without a spleen, removing this organ is usually a last-resort option.
Without a spleen, you are more vulnerable to illness and disease, as it plays a key role in your immune system.
Your spleen also supports your circulatory, digestive, and lymphatic systems in many important ways.
A healthy diet full of nutrient-dense foods is an excellent way to keep your spleen healthy and functioning well.
Reducing your consumption of inflammation-inducing foods can also help to reduce an enlarged spleen.
Regular exercise and reducing stress also can help keep your spleen healthy.
Herbal remedies and supplements can additionally help support your overall health, as well as specifically that of your spleen.
Herbs that encourage detoxification and lymphatic system health can assist in reducing an enlarged spleen, and keep your entire system working properly over time.