What Are the Causes of Spleen Enlargement?

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The spleen is about the size of a fist, located on the left side of your body below the rib cage. The spleen filters infection from the blood as it circulates through the body. The medical term for an enlarged spleen is splenomegaly. Spleen enlargement typically has no symptoms and may be caused by infection, inherited disorders or disorders that inhibit the spleen from functioning normally.

What Are the Causes of Spleen Enlargement?
What Are the Causes of Spleen Enlargement? (Image: decade3d/iStock/Getty Images)

Malaria

Malaria is a parasite that is carried by female Anopheles mosquitoes. When an infected mosquito bites someone, the person can become infected with malaria. The four malaria-causing parasites are Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. malariae and P. ovale. The parasite P. falciparum takes between 8 and 12 days to cause symptoms and can be fatal. Symptoms from P. falciparum are severe resulting in spleen enlargement, liver and kidney failure, high fever, delirium and confusion.

Malaria can cause enlargement of the spleen.
Malaria can cause enlargement of the spleen. (Image: Matauw/iStock/Getty Images)

Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease is also known as sickle cell anemia. Sickle cell is an inherited disorder of the blood that causes the hemoglobin, known as red blood cells, to stick together forming into the shape of a sickle. Normal red blood cells are round allowing easy movement in the blood to carry oxygen. Enlargement of the spleen occurs due to the sickle cells clogging the spleen. This prevents the spleen from filtering infections from the blood and from circulating healthy oxygen cells.

Sickle cell is an inherited disorder of the blood.
Sickle cell is an inherited disorder of the blood. (Image: luchschen/iStock/Getty Images)

Myelofibrosis

Myelofibrosis is a rare disorder that causes the bone marrow's cells to produce an excess of connective tissue, called fibrous tissue, which is made by cells called fibroblasts. The bone marrow cells that produce blood are overwhelmed by the fibrous tissue resulting in a decrease of normal red blood cells. The fibrous red blood cells are not shaped normally. Two factors contribute to an enlarged spleen in myelofibrosis. The spleen attempts to destroy the abnormal red blood cells and make new healthy blood cells causing the spleen to become enlarged.

Myelofibrosis is a disorder that causes the bone marrow's cells to produce extra connective tissue.
Myelofibrosis is a disorder that causes the bone marrow's cells to produce extra connective tissue. (Image: AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images)

Wolman's Disease

Wolman's belongs to a group of diseases called lipid storage disease. This is an inherited disorder of the metabolic system that causes lipids, or fatty material, to build up in the tissues and cells of the body damaging the spleen, brain, liver, bone marrow and peripheral nervous system. Wolman's disease occurs when excessive amounts of triglycerides and cholesteryl esters, which are used to move cholesterol in the body, build up causing damage to organs and tissues.

Wolman's belongs to a group of diseases called lipid storage disease.
Wolman's belongs to a group of diseases called lipid storage disease. (Image: Alexander Raths/iStock/Getty Images)

Amyloidosis

Amyloidosis is a disorder that deposits abnormal amounts of amyloid proteins, which are produced in the bone marrow, in organs and tissues in the body. Build up of these proteins in the spleen causes enlargement that is usually found during a physical exam or other test such as an ultrasound.

Amyloidosis is usually spotted during a physical exam.
Amyloidosis is usually spotted during a physical exam. (Image: Huntstock/Huntstock/Getty Images)

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