Dr. MJ Bazos MD, Patient Handout
Splenectomy and Risk of Infections
What does the spleen do?
Your spleen helps your body resist infection. It is in the upper left side of your abdomen, partly protected by your lower ribs. In some people, the spleen stops working. In certain cases, a person's spleen has to be taken out (called a splenectomy).
What are the risks if my spleen has to be taken out?
If your spleen has to be taken out, you are more at risk of getting severe infections. Your risk will depend in part on your age and whether you have other diseases. Your risk of infection is highest in the first 2 years after you have a splenectomy.
When do I need to call my doctor?
If your spleen has been taken out, you should call your doctor at the first sign of infection, such as fever or chills. You should also call your doctor if you have a severe sore throat, an unexplained cough, severe abdominal pain, and headache or drowsiness.
What can I do to reduce the risk of infection?
Talk with your doctor about how to protect yourself from infections. Tell all your doctors, dentists and other health care workers that you have no spleen. You should also wear a MedicAlert bracelet or necklace from the MedicAlert emergency medical information service. You can get one by contacting MedicAlert Foundation International. Their Web site address is http://www.medicalert.org.
You should get vaccinated (a "shot") against pneumococcal infection. You should get a booster shot every 3 to 5 years. Your doctor may also want you to get 2 other shots, one to protect you against Haemophilus infections and another to protect against meningitis.
Children who have a splenectomy might need to take antibiotics for at least 2 years after the spleen is taken out, and sometimes until age 21. Adults who plan to travel to remote areas or won't have a doctor available for some other reason should have a supply of antibiotics to take at the first sign of infection. Talk to your doctor about which antibiotics are right for you.
If you travel to tropical countries, avoid the risk of malaria . You are also more likely to get infections from dog bites, and to get Babesia, an infection transmitted by deer ticks that is common in the Cape Cod area and Nantucket Island, both in Massachusetts. Let your doctor know if you plan to travel to these areas. Seek care immediately if you are bitten by a dog or a deer tick.