Your spleen is a small, soft, oval-shaped abdominal organ sitting underneath your left rib cage, just behind and above your stomach.
In adults, a normal spleen is about six ounces in weight and about the size of a fist.
As part of your body’s lymphatic system, the spleen plays a vital role in keeping you healthy — from helping you fight off infection to getting rid of cellular waste.
Like with all other organs of the body, problems with the spleen can occur, ranging from splenic cysts to unusual enlargement.
Treatment usually depends on the suspected cause. Diagnosis often involves a series of tests, including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the spleen.
This article reviews everything you need to know about an MRI of the spleen, why you might need one, and how to prepare for it.
You’ll also learn about the average costs and why your routine healthcare tests should include a preventative scan of your spleen.
What Is an MRI of the Spleen?
An MRI of the spleen is a safe and painless procedure that uses strong radio waves and magnetic fields to capture detailed images of your spleen.
A radiology technician performs an MRI of the spleen as a preventative health screening procedure, and a radiologist reviews the results.
An MRI of the spleen may detect possible cysts and tumors and spot other anomalies. The MRI can also help keep track of blood flow through the spleen and potentially discover splenic infarction, which occurs when blood flow to the spleen is compromised.
Understanding What Your Spleen Does Before Scheduling an MRI
Before planning for your MRI, whether as part of your annual health screening or a diagnostic procedure recommended by your healthcare provider, it pays to understand the spleen’s role in your overall health.
The spleen, alongside your lymph nodes, makes up the lymphatic network. The lymphatic network is a part of the immune system.
This small but mighty abdominal organ is often hard at work. Its most important functions include
- Filtering blood and keeping it free from cellular waste
- Helping fight infection by producing white blood cells and other antibodies
- Helping maintain fluid balance in the body
- Helping reduce inflammation and assisting with wound healing
- Storing red blood cells and platelets
Your spleen has two types of splenic parenchyma, or splenic tissue: red pulp and white pulp.
The red pulp is rich with blood vessels and filters old or damaged red blood cells. The white pulp, which is found inside the red pulp, is made of tiny lumps of lymphoid tissue and is responsible for producing antibodies.
What Can an MRI of the Spleen Tell You?
An MRI of the spleen can help spot and identify splenic abnormalities such as
- Splenomegaly, an enlarged spleen
- Hypersplenism, an overactive spleen
- Ruptured or damaged spleen
An enlarged spleen can be painful and uncomfortable, especially right after a meal.
Your spleen can swell and become enlarged for a variety of reasons, including
- Certain types of anemia
- Blood cancers such as Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia, lymphoma, or when cancer that started in another organ has spread to the spleen (also known as splenic metastases)
- Development of blood clots in the liver or spleen
- Inflammatory conditions, including sarcoidosis, which is the development of clumps of inflammatory cells (granulomas) in other organs of the body
- Cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition where thick, sticky mucus tends to develop in the organs of the body
- Bacterial and viral infections such as glandular fever, syphilis, and malaria
An enlarged spleen can be life-threatening once it ruptures. It can also cause secondary infections, anemia, hemorrhage, or excessive bleeding.
In some cases, other diagnostic modalities, such as a bone marrow biopsy exam, are needed to determine the cause of splenomegaly.
An overactive spleen, also known as hypersplenism, destroys healthy blood cells.
As a result, a person can become anemic, as the body doesn’t have the proper amount of oxygen. This can make it difficult to battle infections, as well.
In cases with severe, overactive spleen, splenectomy or surgical removal of the spleen may be necessary.
Hypersplenism can result from the following conditions:
- Chronic liver problems
- Autoimmune conditions
- Certain types of cancer
In some cases, the cause of hypersplenism may be unknown.
Ruptured or Damaged Spleen
A splenic rupture or ruptured spleen can result from an enlarged, swollen spleen or a sudden blow to the left lower chest or left upper abdomen.
It’s worth noting that a spleen can rupture hours or even weeks after trauma or injury.
Blood-related diseases, malaria, and infectious mononucleosis can also increase one’s risk of a ruptured spleen.
Why You Might Need an MRI of Your Spleen
Computed tomography (CT) and ultrasound imaging are the standard diagnostic procedures for spleen evaluation. An MRI of the spleen may also help validate initial CT findings.
Your doctor may order an MRI if you have the following signs and symptoms:
- Discomfort or pain in your lower left chest or left upper quadrant of the abdomen
- The detection of an enlarged spleen during a physical examination by a physician
- Feeling full very quickly after meals
- Unexplained bleeding or bruising
- Frequent infections
- Fatigue and anemia
What Can an MRI of the Spleen Show?
An MRI of the spleen may help reveal the following anomalies:
1. Accessory Spleen
Accessory spleen is a condition that is often present from birth. It describes small tissue of the spleen found separately from the main spleen organ.
While patients are usually asymptomatic, accessory spleen is estimated to occur in 10% to 30% of the population.
2. Splenic Hematoma
Splenic hematoma is a condition that may occur as a result of blunt abdominal trauma or systemic diseases.
3. Benign Tumors and Cysts
Splenic hemangiomas are rare splenic lesions but are one of the most common types of benign tumors with splenic involvement. They may be discovered during MR imaging of the spleen.
A spleen MRI may additionally be able to detect other types of benign lesions in the spleen, including
- Splenic cysts, including pseudocysts (secondary), true cysts (primary), and splenic hydatid cysts
- Splenic lymphangioma, congenital in nature, meaning that something is either present at or from birth
- Splenic abscess, which may result from the presence of bacteria in the blood
- Splenic hamartoma, which is often harmless but may cause pressure on surrounding tissues when it increases in size.
4. Malignant Mass or Tumors
Splenic lymphoma is the most common type of splenic mass or tumor.
Other malignant or cancerous lesions that an MRI of the spleen can reveal include the following:
- Angiosarcoma of the spleen, a rare but aggressive form of cancer that develops in the inner lining of lymph nodes and blood vessels in the spleen.
- Splenic metastases when cancer cells from other organs spread to the spleen. The most common cause of splenic metastasis is malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
- Malignant fibrous histiocytoma, also known as undifferentiated pleomorphic sarcoma. As a rare type of cancer, it develops mainly in the body’s soft tissues. Soft tissues connect, support, and surround other body structures.
5. Splenic Vein Thrombosis
This condition develops when a clot partially or fully blocks the splenic vein, a blood vessel that drains blood away from the spleen and parts of the pancreas and stomach.
Splenic vein thrombosis occurs in 1 out of 5 patients with chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). It can also develop in patients with pancreatic cancer.
Most patients with this condition do not have symptoms, although portal hypertension can develop.
A CT scan, ultrasound, and MR imaging can help detect splenic vein thrombosis.
How Much Does an MRI of the Spleen Cost?
Abdominal MRI, which includes the spleen, can range from $1,600 to $7,600 in the United States.
If you’re uninsured or planning to have an elective MRI, you will likely pay out of pocket for your spleen MRI.
Preparing For an MRI of Your Spleen
The exact steps to take when preparing for an MRI of your spleen will depend on the procedure’s goal. It’s best to ask your doctor for instructions specific to your needs and condition. Generally,
- You can eat on the day of your MRI but try to eat lighter and stay away from gassy foods.
- Limit fluid intake at least 1 to 2 hours before your scan. This will help avoid frequent restroom breaks in the middle of the procedure.
- You may be asked to fill out a questionnaire reviewing your medical history and sign documentation.
- You’ll also likely be instructed to store your personal belongings inside a locker, including metallic objects. This is because the powerful magnetic field in an MRI machine attracts magnets.
Taking Charge of Your Wellness
Ezra’s full-body screening is intended for patients looking to take charge of their wellness. The screening examines the spleen and up to 13 other organs in less than one hour.
This procedure is not intended for anyone currently experiencing symptoms or undergoing treatment for an existing condition.
If you feel ready to take charge of your health, you can book a scan today.