Splenectomy: What to Expect at Home

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Your Recovery

The spleen and its location in the body

After a splenectomy, you are likely to have pain for several days. You may also feel like you have the flu. You may have a low fever and feel tired and nauseated. This is common. You should feel better after a few days and will probably feel much better in about a week.

The spleen helps protect against infections. Now that your spleen has been removed, you will need to be careful to prevent certain infections.

This care sheet gives you a general idea about how long it will take for you to recover. But each person recovers at a different pace. Follow the steps below to get better as quickly as possible.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Activity

  • Rest when you feel tired. Getting enough sleep will help you recover.
  • Try to walk each day. Start by walking a little more than you did the day before. Bit by bit, increase the amount you walk. Walking boosts blood flow and helps prevent pneumonia and constipation.
  • Avoid strenuous activities, such as biking, jogging, weight lifting, or aerobic exercise, until your doctor says it is okay.
  • Avoid lifting anything that would make you strain. This may include heavy grocery bags and milk containers, a heavy briefcase or backpack, cat litter or dog food bags, a vacuum cleaner, or a child.
  • Ask your doctor when you can drive again.
  • You will probably need to take 4 to 6 weeks off from work. It depends on the type of work you do and how you feel.
  • You may shower 24 to 48 hours after surgery, if your doctor says it is okay. Pat the cut (incision) dry. Do not take a bath for the first 2 weeks, or until your doctor tells you it is okay.

Diet

  • Eat several small meals each day. Slowly increase the amount you eat. It's common to feel full quickly after having this surgery.
  • If your stomach is upset, try bland, low-fat foods like plain rice, broiled chicken, toast, and yogurt.
  • Your doctor may tell you to take iron supplements.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated.
  • You may notice that your bowel movements are not regular right after your surgery. This is common. Avoid constipation and straining with bowel movements. You may want to take a fibre supplement every day. If you have not had a bowel movement after a couple of days, ask your doctor about taking a mild laxative.

Medicines

  • Your doctor will tell you if and when you can restart your medicines. He or she will also give you instructions about taking any new medicines.
  • If you take blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), clopidogrel (Plavix), or aspirin, be sure to talk to your doctor. He or she will tell you if and when to start taking those medicines again. Make sure that you understand exactly what your doctor wants you to do.
  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • You will need to take antibiotics for a while after surgery. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • You may need blood transfusions if the number of blood cells is too low.

Incision care

  • If you have strips of tape on the incision, leave the tape on for a week or until it falls off. Or follow your doctor's instructions for removing the tape.
  • Wash the area daily with warm, soapy water and pat it dry. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
  • Take showers instead of baths for the next 2 weeks.

Other instructions

  • You need to take steps to avoid infections. Without a spleen, you have a higher chance of getting very sick with some infections.
    • Get all the vaccinations your doctor recommends.
    • Do not travel to areas where you could get serious infections such as malaria.
    • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
    • Wash your hands often.
  • You will get a medical alert card letting health professionals know about your splenectomy. Carry this with you. It will tell health care workers that you do not have a spleen, in case you need emergency care.

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

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.
  • You have severe pain in your belly.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have pain that does not get better after you take pain medicine.
  • You have shoulder pain that is getting worse.
  • You have loose stitches, or your incision comes open.
  • You are bleeding from the incision.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the incision.
    • Pus draining from the incision.
    • A fever.
  • You have belly pain or cramping.
  • You are sick to your stomach and cannot drink fluids or keep them down.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not have a bowel movement after taking a laxative.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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