March 18, 2011

Enlarged Liver and Spleen

Posted in Category : Common Ailments

An enlarged liver is a condition caused by infections, toxicity or metabolic disorders and is also called hepatomegaly. An enlarged spleen on the other hand is a result of any ailment which causes the destruction of red blood cells within the spleen and is also known as splenomegaly. Sometimes both these conditions occur simultaneously and this is known as hepatosplenomegaly.

An enlarged liver and spleen can be caused by a number of ailments and abnormalities. This condition is brought on by diseases which can directly deteriorate or injure the liver, kidney, spleen or red blood cells in the body. Although the list of causes is long, the most common ones include viral infections to the liver such as hepatitis C, liver cirrhosis due to high alcohol consumption, acute leukemia, sickle cell anemia, kidney and liver infections and typhoid. Gaucher’s disease in its adolescent form is the main cause of an enlarged liver and spleen in children. In certain types of cancers the enlargement increases as the cancer advances and in such cases the enlarged liver causes immense pain to the patient. Fat accumulation in the liver is the most common cause of an enlarged liver. Other causes include diabetes, leukemia, tuberculosis, an inadequate diet, iron deposits in the liver, hepatitis A, B or C and excessive alcohol consumption. Metabolic disorders that lead to the enlargement of the spleen include Hurler syndrome, Niemann-Pick disease and Gaucher’s disease. Various types of tumors and cancers, bacterial and viral infections, splenic vein blocks and red blood cell abnormalities can also cause an enlargement of the spleen.

Enlarged liver and spleen symptoms are difficult to diagnose because hepatosplenomegaly itself is a symptom of a number of ailments and disorders. Pain experienced on touching the liver area or difficulty in digesting meals could be the first noticeable signs of this condition. Certain tests like ultrasounds, x-rays and biopsies may be needed in order to make an accurate diagnosis. Enlarged liver symptoms can seldom be seen mainly because the liver does not contain any nerves. The enlarged liver puts pressure on the surrounding nerves and organs causing discomfort in the area. If the functioning of the liver stops due to the enlargement, it can lead to jaundice. Symptoms of an enlarged spleen include tiredness and weakness caused by anemia, low platelet count causing easy bleeding and recurring infections because of low white blood cell count in the body. An enlarged spleen can push up against the diaphragm causing pain or irritation in the shoulder area. It can also push down on the stomach resulting in a loss of appetite. If the spleen enlarges too much there is a chance of it rupturing which can lead to excessive blood loss.

Most often the pain caused by an enlarged liver and spleen can be misdiagnosed for some other common ailment and so the treatment for the actual cause is delayed. If pain or discomfort is experienced in any area of the stomach, immediate medical consultation must be sought and further treatment for the enlarged liver should be started. Treatment for an enlarged spleen and liver would usually mean treating the other conditions that have caused the enlargement of these organs. If the enlargement is a result of typhoid, appropriate antibiotics can be administered to the patient. In the case of cancer, required treatment like chemotherapy and radiation can be given to reduce the inflammation. An enlarged spleen can also be surgically removed if necessary. Patients suffering from hepatitis can be given medication to reduce the swelling. Obesity can be treated by regular exercise and weight loss. In the case of diabetes, cholesterol and blood sugar levels need to be controlled.