Spleen Pain
A Cause of Pain Under The Left Rib Cage

Understanding The Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis And Treatment Of Spleen Pain


Spleen pain causes a dull continuous ache under the left rib cage. Could your left upper abdominal pain be due to problems with the spleen? See symptoms of spleen diseases, how to diagnose them and treatment options available.

The spleen is a crescent shaped organ like a segment of a tangerine or orange, located in the left upper abdomen, just under the left rib cage, between the tenth and eleventh ribs.

It is the largest solid organ in the body that help defends us against infection and maintains our immune system, apart from the skin. The spleen has been described as a very large lymph node, which it actually is, to some extent.

What Does The Spleen Do?

The spleen is like a large filter. It has two parts - the white pulp, which contains mainly white blood cells, and the red pulp, which contains a network of veins filled with red blood cells. About 300mls of blood passes through the spleen every minute.

The white blood cells in the white pulp of the spleen actively and efficiently look out for bacteria and other dangerous organisms, encircle these and kill them off from our blood system. It also removes debris, like dead cells and tissues from our blood, including foreign materials that might have slipped into us.

Other vital functions of the spleen include:

  • Removal of chemical complexes that form when our body's immune system fights off an invasion
  • Removal of iron from dead or destroyed red blood cells, and then recycles the iron for storage in the liver and production of new red blood cells
  • Storage of platelets. About 30 to 40 percent of our platelets - the blood cells that help clotting and plugging of a bleed, are stored in the spleen at any given time. In the presence of infection or certain conditions like ITP - idiopathic thrombocytopaenic purpuria, up to 80 percent of ones platelet could be drawn up and stored away by the spleen.
  • Production of blood cells in the unborn child. The spleen helps in the production of blood cells in the unborn child, and this process usually stop before the child is born, and only happens again in adults, under certain conditions.
  • Storage of blood in animals. Up to a third of teh blood in a dog is stored in the spleen every time the dog goes to sleep. This does not happen in humans though.

Spleen Pain

The spleen is not often an organ that gets caught up in a disease process. When it becomes infected, leading to enlargement, or gets damaged from direct impact, or indeed from poor blood supply to it, this could lead to pain in the spleen.

Spleen pain typically is:

  • Felt as a pain under the left rib cage
  • It is continuous and may be worse with deep breathing
  • The pain tends to spread along the left upper abdomen to the left shoulder blade bone or scapula on the back and there may also be a shoulder tip pain.

Let's take a look at common conditions that could lead to spleen pain.

Diseases Of The Spleen

The common conditions that affects the spleen leading to the pain described, include:

  • Rupture of the spleen during contact sports or road traffic accident or fall, or any other direct trauma. Presence of infections like glandular fever - infectious mononeucleosis, or malaria makes rupture more likely
  • Enlargement of the spleen from infection
  • Blood disorders affecting the spleen like sickle cell disease
  • Aneurysm or distension and rupture of the artery to the spleen
  • Cysts of the spleen
  • Spread of cancer into the spleen
  • Spleen abscesses - usually from infection of blood clot inside the spleen, or following typhoid fever, or tuberculosis

Diagnosis Of Spleen Pain

It is important to be sure that a pain under the left rib cage is coming from the spleen, rather than from other causes of pain in the spleen area. In other to do so, the following test may be necessary:

  • Blood tests, including full blood count and platelets
  • Abdominal ultrasound scan to see if the spleen is enlarged
  • Ct scan if ruptured spleen is suspected so that the extent can be defined, as this will affect treatment decision.

Treatment Of Pain From The Spleen

The treatment option for spleen pain will depend on the cause. if the pain is due to stretching of the covering of the spleen from enlargement, it is important to find the cause of the enlarged spleen and treated -e.g, antimalarial medication if malaria is suspected, or antibiotics for scarlet fever (penicillin V).

Also care should be taken to avoid contact sports so as not to cause rupture of the spleen.

For cases of ruptured spleen, doctors evaluate the severity and decide whether to operate or not. It is important to conserve the spleen whenevr possible, bt obviously, no to the detriment of or threat to life.

Symptoms Of Spleen Disorders? Have Your Say!

Think you might have symptoms of spleen disorder causing you pain under your left rib cage? Share your experience.

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