It is an organ of the lymphatic system, of soft and spongy consistency that is located on the left side below the ribs and on the stomach.
Spleens in adults are usually about 5 inches wide and weigh about 6 ounces.
The splenic artery carries blood to the spleen from the heart. Blood flows from the spleen through the splenic vein, which drains into a larger vein: the portal vein, which carries blood to the liver.
The spleen covering is a fibrous tissue that covers the lymphatic and blood vessels, this tissue is also called splenic capsule.
The spleen is part of the lymphatic system, and in turn is responsible for dealing with infections and maintaining the balance of body fluids.
The spleen contains white blood cells that fight germs, it also helps control the amount of blood in the human body and destroys non-functional cells.
The spleen is constituted by two basic types of tissues, which have different functions such as:
The white pulp is the part of the immune system that fights infections. The white pulp is responsible for producing white blood cells called lymphocytes , which in turn are responsible for producing antibodies (these are specialized proteins to prevent the invasion of foreign substances).
The red pulp: is responsible for filtering the blood and eliminate unwanted substances. The red pulp also contains another type of white blood cells called phagocytes, these white blood cells ingest microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi and viruses.
They can also monitor red blood cells, and destroy those that are abnormal or too old or can not function properly.
Another function of the red pulp is to serve as a deposit to the different components of the blood such as white blood cells, platelets, with an annexed function that is the release of these elements.
Can you live without the spleen?
Yes. Sometimes, the spleen must be removed surgically, using a procedure called splenectomy.
When you are severely injured by an injury or in the case that certain disorders cause you to become very large, a condition known as splenomegaly.
When this organ is eliminated, the organism loses part of its capacity to produce antibodies and to eliminate those undesirable microorganisms in the blood.
As a result of this suppression, when the body’s ability to fight infections is affected, the body acts in defense and then other organs such as the liver increase their ability to fight infections, monitor and discard some red blood cells for lack of functionality .
People who do not have a spleen have a particularly high risk of infection due to the role of the spleen in fighting certain types of bacteria, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis and Haemophilus influenzae.
Because of this risk, people receive vaccines to help protect them from infection with these organisms. Patients should also make sure they receive the influenza vaccine every year.
Some patients should take antibiotics daily to prevent infections, particularly when they have another disorder such as sickle cell anemia or cancer, which increases the risk of developing life-threatening infections.
The function of the spleen is to act as a filter of the blood, this can control the amount of blood that is stored in the body.
But its main function is in conjunction with the lymph nodes, localize bacteria, viruses, and some microorganism.
The spleen produces white blood cells or lymphocytes that will be responsible for producing antibodies that fight them, preventing the spread of infections.
Conditions of the spleen that reduce its functions
When the spleen is enlarged it is usually caused by specific diseases and certain infections such as:
- Viral infections.
- Bacterial type infections.
- Parasitic infections, such as malaria.
- Metabolic disorders
- The hemolytic anemia .
- Liver diseases, such as cirrhosis .
- Blood cancers and lymphomas, such as Hodgkin’s disease .
- The pressure or blood clots in the veins of the liver or spleen.
The broken spleen:
The spleen is vulnerable to injury, and a ruptured spleen can cause severe, life-threatening internal bleeding . An injured spleen may rupture immediately, days and weeks after the injury.
Sickle cell disease:
This is a hereditary form of anemia, where abnormal red blood cells block the flow of blood through the vessels, potentially causing damage to organs, including the spleen.
The thrombocytopenia :
It is a low platelet count, when there is an enlarged spleen it sometimes stores an excessive number of platelets in the body.
Splenomegaly can cause the abnormal appearance of few platelets circulating in the bloodstream to which they belong.
The presence of a spleen accessory:
Approximately 10% of people have a very small extra spleen. This never causes problems and is considered normal.
Spleen functioning tests
- Physical exam: By pressing the abdomen below the left rib cage, you can feel an enlargement of the spleen and look for other signs of diseases that cause splenomegaly.
- Computed tomography: The CT scanner takes multiple photographs and a computer creates detailed images of the abdomen. A contrast can be injected into the veins to improve the images.
- Ultrasound: A probe is placed in the abdomen and harmless sound waves create images when reflected in the spleen and other organs. Splenomegaly can be detected by ultrasound.
- Magnetic resonance: Magnetic waves create very detailed images of the abdomen. By using a contrast dye, the blood flow to the spleen can also be measured.
- Bone marrow biopsy: A needle is inserted into a large bone (such as the pelvis) and a sample of bone marrow is removed. Leukemia or lymphoma , which causes splenomegaly, is sometimes diagnosed by a bone marrow biopsy.
- A scan of the liver and spleen: A small amount of radioactive contrast is injected into the arm. The dye moves throughout the body and is collected in both organs.
Treatments to improve spleen function
In general, treatments for spleen conditions do not focus on the spleen itself, but rather on the treatment of the underlying conditions.