This article is about the medical condition. For the moth genus, see Asplenia (moth). For spleenwort ferns, see Asplenium.
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 D73.0, Q89.0
ICD-9 289.59, 759.01
OMIM 208530 %271400 208540
eMedicine ped/150 radio/58

Asplenia refers to the absence of normal spleen function and is associated with some serious infection risks. Hyposplenism is used to describe reduced ('hypo-') splenic functioning, but not as severely affected as with asplenism.




  • Congenital asplenia (rare) may be due to genetic disorders, (i.e. heterotaxy syndrome).


Partial splenectomy and preservation of splenic function

In an effort to preserve some of the spleen's protective roles,[1] attempts are now often made to preserve a small part of the spleen when performing either surgical subtotal (partial) splenectomy,[2] or partial splenic embolization.[3] This may be particularly important in poorer countries where protective measures for patients with asplenia are not available.[4] However it has been advised that preoperative vaccination is advisable until the remnant splenic tissue can reestablish its function.[5]


Asplenia increases the risk of sepsis from polysaccharide encapsulated bacteria, and can result in overwhelming post splenectomy infection (OPSI), often fatal within a few hours. In particular, patients are at risk from Pneumococcus, Haemophilus influenzae, and meningococcus. The risk is elevated as much as 350–fold.[6]

The risk to asplenic patients has been expressed as equivalent to a child dying in a home accident, or equivalent to an adult dying in a road traffic accident (reference UK Splenectomy Trust Advice)—hence sensible precautions are advisable.[7]


To minimise the risks associated with splenectomy, antibiotic and vaccination protocols have been established,[8][9][10] but are often poorly adhered to by doctors and patients due to the complications resulting from antibiotic prophylaxis such as development of an overpopulation of Clostridium difficile in the intestinal tract.[11]

Antibiotic prophylaxis

Because of the increased risk of infection, physicians administer oral antibiotics as a prophylaxis after a surgical splenectomy (or starting at birth, for congenital asplenia or functional asplenia). The duration suggested varies: one suggestion is that antibiotics be taken for two years or until the age of sixteen years old is reached, whichever is longer.[citation needed]

Patients are also cautioned to start a full-dose course of antibiotics at the first onset of an upper or lower respiratory tract infection (for example, sore throat or cough), or at the onset of any fever.


It is suggested that splenectomized persons receive the following vaccinations, and ideally prior to planned splenectomy surgery:

  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (not before 2 years of age). Children may first need one or more boosters of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine if they did not complete the full childhood series.
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine, especially if not received in childhood. For adults who have not been previously vaccinated, two doses given two months apart was advised in the new 2006 UK vaccination guidelines (in the UK may be given as a combined Hib/MenC vaccine).[12]
  • Meningococcal conjugate vaccine, especially if not received in adolescence. Previously vaccinated adults require a single booster and non-immunised adults advised, in UK since 2006, to have two doses given two months apart.[12] Children too young for the conjugate vaccine should receive meningococcal polysaccharide vaccine in the interim.[6]
  • Influenza vaccine, every winter, to help prevent getting secondary bacterial infection.

Travel measures

In addition to the normal immunisations advised for the countries to be visited, Group A meningococcus should be included if visiting countries of particular risk (e.g. sub-saharan Africa).[13] The non-conjugated Meningitis A and C vaccines usually used for this purpose give only 3 years coverage and provide less-effective long-term cover for Meningitis C than the conjugated form already mentioned.[14]

Those lacking a functional spleen are at higher risk of contracting malaria,[15] and succumbing to its effects. Travel to malarial areas will carry greater risks and is best avoided. Travellers should take the most appropriate anti-malarial prophylaxis medication and be extra vigilant over measures to prevent mosquito bites.[8]

The pneumococcal vaccinations may not cover some of the other strains of pneumococcal bacteria present in other countries. Likewise their antibiotic resistance may also vary, requiring a different choice of stand-by antibiotic.

Additional measures

  • Surgical and dental procedures - Antibiotic prophylaxis may be required before certain surgical or dental procedures.
  • Animal bites - adequate antibiotic cover is required after even minor dog or other animal bites. Asplenic patients are particularly susceptible to infection by capnocytophaga canimorsus and should receive a five day course of co-amoxiclav (erythromycin in patients allergic to penicillin).[16]
  • Tick bites - Babesiosis is a rare tickborne infection. Patients should check themselves or have themselves inspected for tick bites if they are in an at-risk situation. Presentation with fever, fatigue, and haemolytic anaemia requires diagnostic confirmation by identifying the parasites within red blood cells on blood film and by specific serology. Quinine (with or without clindamycin) is usually an effective treatment.[16]
  • Alert warning - People without a working spleen can carry a card, or wear a special bracelet or necklet which says that they do not have a working spleen. This would alert a healthcare professional to take rapid action if they become are seriously ill and cannot notify them of their condition.


  1. ^ Grosfeld JL, Ranochak JE (1976). "Are hemisplenectomy and/or primary splenic repair feasible?". J. Pediatr. Surg. 11 (3): 419–24. doi:10.1016/S0022-3468(76)80198-4. PMID 957066. 
  2. ^ Bader-Meunier B, Gauthier F, Archambaud F, et al. (2001). "Long-term evaluation of the beneficial effect of subtotal splenectomy for management of hereditary spherocytosis". Blood 97 (2): 399–403. doi:10.1182/blood.V97.2.399. PMID 11154215. 
  3. ^ Pratl B, Benesch M, Lackner H, et al. (2007). "Partial splenic embolization in children with hereditary spherocytosis". Eur J Haematol 80 (1): 76–80. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0609.2007.00979.x. PMID 18028435. 
  4. ^ Sheikha AK, Salih ZT, Kasnazan KH, et al. (2007). "Prevention of overwhelming postsplenectomy infection in thalassemia patients by partial rather than total splenectomy". Can J Surg 50 (5): 382–6. PMC 2386178. PMID 18031639. 
  5. ^ Kimber C, Spitz L, Drake D, et al. (1998). "Elective partial splenectomy in childhood". J. Pediatr. Surg. 33 (6): 826–9. doi:10.1016/S0022-3468(98)90651-0. PMID 9660206. 
  6. ^ a b AAP Red Book 2006.
  7. ^ "Splenectomy and Infection" (PDF). Splenectomy Trust. March 2002. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2006-12-12.  - reprint from Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust
  8. ^ a b Working Party of the British Committee for Standards in Haematology Clinical Haematology Task Force (1996). "Guidelines for the prevention and treatment of infection in patients with an absent or dysfunctional spleen. Working Party of the British Committee for Standards in Haematology Clinical Haematology Task Force". BMJ 312 (7028): 430–4. PMC 2350106. PMID 8601117. 
  9. ^ Davies JM, et al. (2001-06-02). "The prevention and treatment of infection in patients with an absent or dysfunctional spleen - British Committee for Standards in Haematology Guideline up-date". BMJ.  - published as a response by original authors
  10. ^ Davies JM, Barnes R, Milligan D, British Committee for Standards in Haematology - Working Party of the Haematology/Oncology Task Force (2002). "Update of guidelines for the prevention and treatment of infection in patients with an absent or dysfunctional spleen" (PDF). Clin Med 2 (5): 440–3. PMID 12448592. 
  11. ^ Waghorn DJ (2001). "Overwhelming infection in asplenic patients: current best practice preventive measures are not being followed". J Clin Pathol 54 (3): 214–8. doi:10.1136/jcp.54.3.214. PMC 1731383. PMID 11253134. 
  12. ^ a b Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (21 December 2006). "Chapter 7 : Immunisation of individuals with underlying medical conditions". In Editors Salisbury D, Ramsay M, Noakes K (PDF). Immunisation Against Infectious Disease 2006. Edinburgh: Stationery Office. ISBN 0113225288.  - see pages 50-1 and table 7.1
  13. ^ "Meningococcal - Children and adults with asplenia or splenic dysfunction" (PDF). Immunisation against infectious disease - 'The Green Book'. 24 August 2009 [2006]. p. 244. 
  14. ^ Chief Medical Officer (2001). "Meningococcal immunisation for asplenic patients" (PDF). Professional Letter: Chief Medical Officer - Current vaccine and immunization issues (Department of Health) 1: 4. Retrieved 2009-11-07. 
  15. ^ Boone KE, Watters DA (November 1995). "The incidence of malaria after splenectomy in Papua New Guinea". BMJ 311 (7015): 1273. PMC 2551185. PMID 7496237. 
  16. ^ a b "Guidelines for the prevention and treatment of infection in patients with an absent or dysfunctional spleen" (PDF). Wilton, Cork, Ireland: Health Service Executive, Southern Area. 2002 September. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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