Staying healthy after your spleen has been removed
Surgery to remove the spleen (splenectomy) can be an effective treatment for many people who haven't responded to other treatments for immune thrombocytopenia (ITP), also known as autoimmune thrombocytopenia. Splenectomy can slow down the destruction of blood-clotting cells (platelets) that happens in ITP.
The spleen removes old and damaged cells from the blood, and it also helps fight infections. After surgery, other organs in your body take over most of the spleen's duties, but your body's ability to respond quickly to infections will be impaired.
Here are some ways to reduce your risk of infection after splenectomy:
- Stay current with your vaccinations. Follow your doctor's recommendations for vaccines. In addition to vaccines recommended for everyone, you'll need additional vaccinations to protect against the germs that are most likely to cause infections in people without spleens, including pneumonia, meningitis and the flu. Some of these vaccines need to be repeated annually or every few years.
- Be vigilant for signs of infection. Seek immediate medical care if you notice signs of an infection, such as a fever of 100.4 F (38 C) or higher, chills that cause you to shake or shiver, vomiting, diarrhea, and headache.
- Consider keeping emergency antibiotics close by. Ask your doctor whether you should keep emergency antibiotics on hand so that you can take them if you notice signs of an infection. You'll need to pay close attention to the expiration date so that you can get the antibiotics replaced before they expire.
- Tell all of your medical providers that your spleen was removed. Make sure each medical professional you see knows that your spleen was removed so that they're aware of your infection risk. Also consider carrying a medical alert card or wearing a medical alert bracelet.
- Plan ahead for travel. See your doctor before traveling abroad so that you can receive vaccines or medicines to prevent infectious diseases that might be present in the places you'll be visiting. Also ask about carrying emergency antibiotics on your travels.
Talk to your doctor about your risk of infection after splenectomy and what you can do to prevent infections. For instance, some people with a very high risk of infection might consider taking daily antibiotics.
May 22, 2020
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- Pasternack MS. Prevention of infection in patients with impaired splenic function. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed May 1, 2019.
- Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center. Splenectomy: Spleen removal. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2014.