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Splenectomy in Children: Before Your Child's Surgery

Stomach and spleen, with detail of spleen

What is a splenectomy?

A splenectomy (say "splih-NEK-tuh-mee") is surgery to take out the spleen. The spleen is an organ in the upper left side of the belly. It filters old and damaged blood cells from the blood. The spleen may need to be removed if it doesn't work well because of an infection like pneumonia. Sometimes it's removed because it was injured in a crash or a fall.

Your child will be asleep during the surgery. The surgery may be done through one large cut (incision). This is called open surgery. Or your child may have laparoscopic surgery. To do this, the doctor puts a lighted tube, or scope, and other tools through several small cuts.

Open surgery will leave a scar on your child's belly. Laparoscopic surgery leaves small scars. They will fade over time.

The spleen helps protect your child from illness. After the spleen is gone, your child may be more likely to get infections such as pneumonia and meningitis. So before or soon after surgery, your child may need one or more vaccinations.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

What happens before surgery?

Surgery can be stressful for both your child and you. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for your child's surgery.

Preparing for surgery

  • Understand exactly what surgery is planned, along with the risks, benefits, and other options.
  • Tell the doctors ALL the medicines and natural health products your child takes. Some of these can increase the risk of bleeding or interact with anesthesia. Your doctor will tell you which medicines your child should take or stop before surgery.
  • Talk to your child about the surgery. Tell your child that it will help him or her feel better. Ask if a child life specialist is available. Hospitals know how to take care of children. The staff will do all they can to make it easier for your child.
  • Ask if a special tour of the surgery area and hospital is available. This may make your child feel less nervous about what happens.
  • Plan for your child's recovery time. He or she may need more of your time right after the surgery, both for care and for comfort.
  • Your child may be given vaccines against different types of infections.

The day before surgery

  • A nurse may call you (or you may need to call the hospital). This is to confirm the time and date of your child's surgery and answer any questions.
  • Remember to follow your doctor's instructions about your child taking or stopping medicines before surgery. This includes over-the-counter medicines.

What happens on the day of surgery?

  • Follow the instructions exactly about when your child should stop eating and drinking. If you don't, your child's surgery may be cancelled. If your doctor told you to have your child take his or her medicines on the day of surgery, have your child take them with only a sip of water.
  • Follow the doctor's instructions about when your child should bathe or shower before the procedure. Do not apply lotion or deodorant.
  • Your child may brush his or her teeth. But tell your child not to swallow any toothpaste or water.
  • Do not let your child wear contact lenses. Bring your child's glasses or contact lens case.
  • Be sure your child has something that reminds him or her of home. A special stuffed animal, toy, or blanket may be comforting. For an older child, it might be a book or music.

At the hospital or surgery centre

  • A parent or legal guardian must accompany your child.
  • Your child will be kept comfortable and safe by the anesthesia provider. Your child will be asleep during the surgery.
  • Your child may have a tube in his or her nose that goes down the back of the throat into the stomach. This is called a nasogastric tube. It removes stomach fluids for the first few days after the surgery.
  • The surgery will take about 2 to 4 hours.
  • After surgery, your child will be taken to the recovery room. As your child wakes up, the recovery staff will monitor his or her condition. The doctor will talk to you about the surgery.
  • Your child may need to stay in the hospital for 2 to 3 days. Your child is ready to go home when his or her pain is under control and your child can eat and drink normally.

Going home

  • Expect your child to be sleepy after the surgery. Encourage extra rest the first day. Most children can be more active on the day after surgery.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions about when your child can do vigorous exercise. This includes sports, running, and physical education.
  • When you leave the hospital, you will get more information about how to take care of your child at home.
  • The doctor or nurse will tell you when your child can start normal activities again.

When should you call your doctor?

  • You have questions or concerns.
  • You don't understand how to prepare your child for surgery.
  • Your child becomes ill before the surgery (such as fever, flu, or a cold).
  • You need to reschedule or have changed your mind about your child having the surgery.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.