Doctors say there are telltale signs that make them suspect a ruptured spleen:
When a doctor suspects the spleen could be ruptured, an ultrasound or CT scan can provide more information about the injury site. A CT scan uses a computer to make detailed images of the injury. Doctors often will try to stabilize the patient with blood products, but if circulation cannot be controlled, surgery might be needed to correct the damage.
A ruptured spleen is a serious injury because it can cause patients to bleed internally. If it is not corrected, it can be fatal. Doctors say that the severity of the injury is graded on a four-point scale, depending on how badly the organ has been bruised or torn. Sometimes the damage to the spleen and its blood vessels is so severe that the organ needs to be removed in order to control internal bleeding. But in cases that are not as severe, treatment can be managed non-operatively.
Patients who have their ruptured spleen removed go on to recover from their injuries. The big downside, however, is that without a spleen, patients are much more susceptible to serious infections.
Sources: David Gaieski, M.D., instructor in the department of emergency medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. Townsend: Sabiston Textbook of Surgery, 17th ed., 2004; pp. 523-525.
By David Flegel, M.S.
Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D.
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