This is a surgical procedure which involves the removal of the spleen.
Located underneath the ribcage on the left side, the spleen has several functions which include the filtration of germs and bacteria which may cause infection, storage for extra blood not needed and the removal of old or damaged blood cells, including platelets.
Unfortunately, in performing its normal blood filtering work, the spleen will trap and destroy platelets coated with the antibodies. The spleen itself is not diseased, but removal of the spleen can, in about two thirds of cases result in long-term improvement in platelet counts so that no further medical treatment for ITP will be required.
The splenectomy is performed under general anaesthesia and mainly performed laparoscopically (keyhole surgery), which is less invasive. In some instances, keyhole surgery cannot be performed and the operation will require a larger cut through the abdominal wall.
Before splenectomy, it is generally recommended that vaccinations to prevent specific infections are given (pneumonia and meningitis vaccines). Post splenectomy, antibiotics are recommended, either taken daily to prevent infection, or having an emergency supply to start if the symptoms of infection occur.
For people who have undergone a splenectomy, we recommend that you speak with your medical professional about taking antibiotics, vaccines and prior to travelling internationally. There is an Australian Registry called “Spleen Australia” which provides useful information to people who have had their spleen removed. Reminders for repeat vaccines and general advice are available. It is recommended that everyone who has a splenectomy registers – this can be done by the person directly or by their doctor (with the person’s consent).