What is a Spleen?

What organ located in the human body below the rib cage an in the upper left part of the abdomen is as big as your fist? The answer is your spleen, as you probably guessed based on the title. Your spleen has a pretty important role to play in your body and is part of your body’s defense system, also known as your lymphatic system.

The spleen is made up of a splenic artery, a splenic vein that drains into a larger portal vein and fibrous tissue called the splenic capsule. The tissue of the spleen is actually made up of two types of tissues: red pulp and white pulp. They both function differently in the body and both are important.

Infection Fighting Immune Machine

The white pulp is responsible for fighting infection and is part of the immune system. It produces white blood cells called lymphocytes. These lymphocytes produce antibodies, which are specialized proteins that actually do the protecting against the foreign substances that may enter our body.

The red pulp has an important function in the body too, and that is to filter the blood. It filters the blood to remove any unwanted material that may get into the blood, such as bacteria, fungi, or viruses. It can also monitor the red blood cells, destroying any that become abnormal or become too old or become damaged and are no longer able to function in the way they were designed to.

The spleen also has the job of controlling the amount of blood that is in your body, adjusting the volume based on need. The red pulp can also hold different elements of the blood such as white blood cells and platelets. They also release these same elements.

Can You Live Without a Spleen?

Doesn’t your spleen sound like it is a pretty important part of your body? You may not think that you could possibly live without your spleen, but you can. Many individuals involved in vehicle accidents or who are traumatized in other accidents in which the spleen is damaged beyond repair have the spleen removed in an operation called a splenectomy.

Once the spleen has been removed from the body, the body loses its ability to produce the antibodies needed to fight infection or ward off intruders or to remove unwanted microorganisms from the blood but despite this loss to the body, the body can survive.

The individual without a spleen is just more vulnerable to infections both bacterial and viral. They can receive vaccinations to try to boost their protection level against infections such as influenza vaccinations. They can also have other organs in their body compensate for the missing spleen. The liver can do a good job of compensating for the spleen.