Surgeons sometimes combine a minimally invasive procedure with an open surgery. In addition, your surgeon may decide after beginning a minimally invasive procedure that you require an open surgery to safely and most effectively complete your surgery. 

Your surgeon will advise you on which procedure is best for you and how long you need to stay in the hospital based on your diagnosis, age, medical history, general health, and possibly your personal preference. Learn about the different splenectomy procedures and ask why your surgeon will use a particular type for you.

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your surgeon will perform a splenectomy using general anesthesia. General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain. 

You may also have a peripheral nerve block infusion in addition to general anesthesia. A peripheral nerve block infusion is an injection or continuous drip of liquid anesthetic. The anesthetic flows through a tiny tube inserted near your surgical site to control pain during and after surgery.

What to expect the day of your splenectomy

The day of your surgery, you can generally expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests and immunizations are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form.
  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.
  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will receive.
  • A surgical team member will start an IV. 
  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your anesthesia.
  • A tube will be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.
  • The surgical team will insert a catheter in your bladder to monitor your urine output. They will also insert a tube through your mouth or nose into your stomach. This keeps your stomach empty during surgery. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.
  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and your recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.

What are the risks and potential complications of a splenectomy?  

As with all surgeries, a splenectomy involves risks and possible complications. Most splenectomy procedures are successful, but complications may become serious and life threatening in some cases. Complications can develop during surgery or recovery.

General risks of surgery 

The general risks of surgery include: 

  • Anesthesia reaction, such as an allergic reaction and problems with breathing 
  • Bleeding, which can lead to shock
  • Blood clot, in particular a deep vein thrombosis that develops in the leg or pelvis. A blood clot can travel to your lungs, heart or brain and cause a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke. A serious blood clot can also develop in the large vein of the liver.
  • Infection and septicemia, which is the spread of a local infection to the blood. This includes pneumonia.

Potential complications of splenectomy

Complications of splenectomy include:

  • Abdominal bleeding
  • Constipation, diarrhea, or obstruction of stools through the colon (bowel obstruction)
  • Damage to nearby abdominal organs, such as the stomach and pancreas
  • Opening of the external abdominal incision or development of a hernia at the site
  • Overwhelming post-splenectomy infection (OPSI), which can occur in the absence of the spleen. The spleen normally fights off bacterial infections in your body.
  • Pancreatitis

Reducing your risk of complications

You can reduce the risk of certain complications by following your treatment plan and: