The Spleen: What it Does and Why it is So Fragile

What the Spleen Does and Why We Can Live Without One

Female surgeon adjusting medical glove in hospital
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Definition: The spleen is one of the organs of the human body and it performs many functions. The spleen participates in the creation of blood cells and also helps to filter the blood of old blood cells and fight infection. The spleen also helps to control the amount of blood circulating through the body by creating a reserve pool of blood that can be released during severe bleeding. 

The Spleen Is a Helper

The spleen works with other organs in the body to complete the tasks of blood storage, fighting infection and filtering the blood.

 While the spleen is useful and does perform vital tasks, other organs in the body also work to filter the blood and fight infection, and blood cells are mainly produced in the bones.  This overlap makes it possible for the spleen to be removed without causing lasting harm to the individual.

The Fragile Spleen

The spleen holds reserve blood in case of significant bleeding, much like a blood filled balloon.  In a trauma situation, particularly a severe car crash where an individual is wearing a seat belt, the forces at work can actually cause the spleen to rupture.  The spleen has a high amount of blood flow, which can lead to a tremendous amount of bleeding.  When this happens, the treatment is a splenectomy, the surgery to remove the spleen.

The spleen can also become enlarged, stretching over time, until it becomes unable to function.  It can expand over time from normal size (which is approximately the size of a small chicken breast), to the size of a softball or approaching the size of a volleyball.


Living Without a Spleen

As the spleen is not the only organ responsible for any of these functions, the spleen is not a necessary organ. It is possible to have the spleen removed and live a healthy life.  Individuals without a spleen may be more likely to contract some types of infections as the body will have less B cells, the cells that "remember" exposure to bacterias and "remember" how to fight them.


In general, the person without a spleen is as healthy as the average individual with a spleen with some known exceptions including a greater risk of contracting pneumonia and reduced effectiveness of vaccines.  

Also Known As: splenic

Common Misspellings: splen, spleeen, splene, splean, spleenic

Examples: After the car accident it was determine that the spleen was damaged and had to be surgically removed.

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