What Does the Spleen Do?

“Spleen” is a word that most of us have heard before, we know we have one but could we answer simple questions about it like – where is it found? Or, what does it do?  Probably not. This is not a testament to our biomedical ignorance, but rather to show that the spleen is an organ commonly ignored and overlooked.

To answer some questions, the spleen is an organ that sits on the left upper quarter of the abdomen. It commonly lies under the ninth to the twelve rib, next to the stomach and pancreas.  One of the major functions of the spleen is to filter the blood of old and dying red blood cells. The spleen also stores platelets, a component of our blood, which normally help in blood coagulation and clotting.

The spleen acts like a reservoir of a special type of cell called white blood cells. The white blood cells that are stored in the spleen migrate to the injury sites and transform into messenger cells that remove dead or dying cells and that may heal wounds due to injuries.

As a result to infections and viruses the spleen can get enlarged with leukemia or lymphoma cancers, mononucleosis – better known as the “kissing disease” – or sickle cell anemia.  Trauma to the spleen or spleen rupture can also cause significant issues.

Being diagnosed with any of these conditions can lead to your spleen improperly functioning. If you are faced with a decision if your spleen should be removed, keep this in mind. The spleen can be removed and we can live without it. However, you will run a greater risk of infections and viruses due to the dying or dead cells that will not be able to repair, since the reservoir for these special cells has been taken out.

Keep in mind that trauma to the spleen is dangerous and should not be taken lightly. The spleen is an important organ in the immune system. Immediate action should be taken should there ever be trauma to the spleen, to ensure the spleen doesn’t rupture. If the spleen were to burst the patient could potentially bleed to death.

If a decision is made to remove the spleen due to leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, or just plain blunt trauma; vaccinations are a necessary step. For example, the pneumonia vaccination is used to prevent infection caused by the pneumonia bacteria. Getting vaccinated is essential and will help prevent from having infections that can put you at risk in the future. 

Because of the spleens important role in the immune system, when possible surgeons try to reserve as much of the spleen as they can, especially in a traumatic injury. By doing this the patient can still utilize the spleen, and furthermore lessens the chances of getting bacterial or viral infections.   Utilizing even a small portion of the spleens abilities can help immensely to heal a patient during the recovery process.

David Samadi, MD - Medical Contributor

View posts by David Samadi, MD - Medical Contributor
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel's Medical A-Team. Learn more at roboticoncology.com. Visit Dr. Samadi's blog at SamadiMD.com. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.
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