Prepared by Stuart E. Mirvis, MD, Professor of Radiology,
University of Maryland Medical School, Baltimore, MD.
A 6-year-old girl presented to the emergency department with
vomiting and severe left upper and mid-abdominal pain. A mass was
palpated on physical examination. The patient had a several month
history of intermittent abdominal pain. An abdomino-pelvic CT scan
was obtained after administration of oral and intravenous contrast
material. Four CT images (figures1-4) from that study are provided.
What is the most likely diagnosis?
"Wandering spleen" with pedicle torsion and infarction
Wandering spleen is an uncommon condition that usually presents
clinically in children of 3 months to 10 years of age (most
typically in children who are less than 1 year old). The condition
is a result of congenital abnormal development of the dorsal
mesogastrium. Normally, the spleen and its ligamentous attachments,
the lienorenal and gastrolienal ligaments, are derived from the
dorsal mesogastrium. The posterior leaf of the dorsal mesogastrium
fuses with the parietal peritoneum anterior to the left kidney to
form the lienorenal ligament, the most important stabilizer of
splenic position. Failure or incomplete fusion of these structures
allows for abnormal mobility of the spleen related to a long
splenic vascular pedicle that permits excessive intraperitoneal
movement of the spleen. It is the long vascular pedicle which
permits torsion of the spleen to occur, leading to ischemia. In
addition, a portion of the pancreatic tail is derived from the
dorsal mesogastrium and may also be involved in torsion.
Clinically, a patient may present with acute, chronic, or
intermittent abdominal symptoms. Intermittent pain may result from
torsion and spontaneous detorsion of the spleen, while an acute
abdomen would result from prolonged vascular pedicle torsion and
infarction. Associated symptoms, particularly with an acute
presentation, include fever, leukocytosis, peritoneal signs, and a
palpable pelvic or abdominal mass.
Radiologic investigation can include abdominal radiography that
may show an abdominal mass with absence of the splenic shadow from
the left upper quadrant. Serial abdominal radiographs may show
variation in the position of the spleen over time. A barium
contrast study would be expected to show only non-specific mass
effect related to the abdominal mass. Nuclear scintigraphy would
demonstrate either no splenic tracer uptake or an ectopic splenic
position. Both CT and sonography would be expected to show an
abdominal mass or ectopic position of the spleen, and no spleen in
the left upper quadrant. Sonography demonstrates a large spleen
with an inhomogenous echo texture. A CT scan with use of
intravenous contrast can demonstrate lack of, or only limited
enhancement of the spleen due to vascular torsion. The infarcted
spleen has a CT attenuation below that of the normal spleen.
Ascites also may be demonstrated by cross-sectional imaging
methods. Additionally, the pancreatic tail may be torsed and
infarcted. Chronic or intermittent splenic torsion may produce a
chronic inflammatory enhancing splenic pseudocapsule related to
development of omental and peritoneal adhesions. Finally, a "whorl"
of fat and possibly pancreatic tissue may be present along the
medial aspect of the spleen due to rotation of the vascular
pedicle. Duplex Doppler and color flow sonography can assess the
vascular flow to the spleen in cases of suspected infarction.
In the cases demonstrated here, figure 1 shows the absence of a
spleen in the expected location, with the stomach, bowel, and left
lobe of liver in the left upper quadrant. Figure 2 demonstrates the
"whorl" sign of perivascular fat surrounding an enhancing splenic
artery. The spleen is not visualized anterior to the kidney.
Figures 3 and 4 show a large heterogeneous mass with patchy
parenchymal enhancement in the left lateral mid abdomen producing
mass effect on adjacent bowel compatible with an infarcted spleen.
The pancreatic tail and surrounding fat are normal.
Other diagnostic considerations should include abdominal
abscess, mesenteric or omental cyst, or mesenteric neoplasm. The
lack of a spleen in the expected location strongly suggests the
appropriate diagnosis. Splenectomy is required to manage the
infarcted spleen, while splenoplexy can be used to treat chronic or
intermittent symptoms related to splenic migration or torsion.
1. Herman TE, Siegel MJ:
CT of acute splenic torsion in children with wandering spleen. AJR
2. Nemcek AA, Miller FH, Fitzgerald SW:
Acute torsion of a wandering spleen: Diagnosis by CT and duplex
Doppler and color flow sonography. AJR 157:307-309, 1991.
3. Sheflin JR, Lee CM, Kretchmar KA:
Torsion of wandering spleen and distal pancreas. AJR 142:100-104,