What is a splenectomy?
A splenectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the spleen (the spleen's role is to filter red blood cells; it also helps combat bacterial infections such as pneumonia and meningitis). If the entire spleen is removed, this is referred to as a full splenectomy. In some cases, only a section of the spleen needs to be removed, referred to as a partial splenectomy.
Why is it performed?
The spleen can be damaged by external trauma, such when playing very physical sports (for example football or hockey) or car accidents where there is severe injury to the abdomen.
In some case the spleen may have ruptured and will need to be removed. In some cases, the spleen may need to be removed where another condition, such as cancer or a disease affecting the blood can result in swelling in the spleen. This is a preventative measure to avoid the spleen rupturing.
A splenectomy may also be recommended to help improve the function of blood cells (white blood cells and platelets).
How should I prepare for the procedure?
Being an active smoker greatly increases the risk of poor wound healing and breakdown of wounds after the procedure. For this reason, we strongly recommend you either give up smoking entirely, or not smoke at all in the six weeks before the procedure. At an absolute minimum you must stop smoking at least one week prior to the procedure.
If you are taking an anti-inflammatory medication or Warfarin, Aspirin of Plavix you must stop taking these one week before the procedure. Please contact Dr Silverman if you have any questions relating to your current medication.
You will receive any further specific instructions on how to prepare for your procedure from Dr Silverman well ahead of the date of the procedure.
What is involved in a splenectomy?
Most splenectomies are performed using laparoscopic surgical techniques, although a larger spleen may need to be removed using open surgery via one large incision instead of a number of smaller incisions used in laparoscopic surgery. The procedure is conducted under general anaesthesia.
After laparoscopic surgery, patients are normally able to return home either the day of surgery or the day after. If the procedure was open surgery, patients are able to return home after 2-6 days in hospital.
Returning to normal activities
After a laparoscopic splenectomy, patients are generally able to return to normal activity levels around two weeks after surgery. If the procedure was open surgery, the recovery period is around six weeks before normal activity can be resumed.
Risks / complications
There are risks associated with all surgical procedures, such as wound infection, and risks relating to anaesthesia and bleeding during the procedure.
The longer-term risk specific to splenectomy is increased susceptibility to infection (since the spleen plays a role in prevention of infection). You may be advised to take certain vaccinations and / or preventative antibiotics.
Dr Silverman will be able to discuss any possible risks or complications with you well ahead of the procedure (except where this is an emergency procedure).