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Ruptured spleen

A ruptured spleen is a medical emergency that occurs when your spleen develops a break in its surface. Your spleen, located just under your rib cage on your left side, helps your body fight infection and filter old blood cells from your bloodstream.

A ruptured spleen is generally caused by a forceful blow to your abdomen — during a sporting mishap, a fistfight or a car crash, for example. Without emergency treatment, a ruptured spleen can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.

Though some ruptured spleens require emergency surgery, some people with ruptured spleens can be treated with several days of hospital care.

Symptoms Causes Complications Prevention

Signs and symptoms of a ruptured spleen include:

  • Pain in the upper left portion of the abdomen
  • Tenderness when you touch the upper left portion of the abdomen
  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion

When to see a doctor

A ruptured spleen is a medical emergency. After an injury, if you have pain in the left upper abdomen or signs and symptoms that indicate internal bleeding — such as lightheadedness, confusion, blurred vision or fainting — seek emergency medical care.

A spleen may rupture due to:

  • Injury to the left side of the body. A ruptured spleen is typically caused by a blow to the left upper abdomen or the left lower chest, such as might happen during sporting mishaps, fistfights and car crashes. An injured spleen may rupture soon after the abdominal trauma or, in some cases, days or even weeks after the injury.
  • An enlarged spleen. Your spleen can become enlarged when blood cells accumulate in the spleen. An enlarged spleen can be caused by various underlying problems, such as mononucleosis and other infections, liver disease, and blood cancers.

A ruptured spleen can cause life-threatening bleeding into your abdominal cavity.

If you've been diagnosed with an enlarged spleen, ask your doctor whether you should avoid activities that could cause a ruptured spleen. For instance, people with mononucleosis — a viral infection that can cause an enlarged spleen — may be asked to avoid contact sports and other activities that increase the risk of abdominal trauma for several weeks. Protecting the spleen from bumps and blows may reduce the risk of a ruptured spleen.

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