Spleen - Conditions, Functions, Interesting Facts
Know your Body

The Spleen

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 20 Mar 2013 - 17:43

Anatomy:
The spleen is an organ located on the upper, left hand side of the abdominal area, directly on the left to the stomach. Its size may vary, but generally is about the size of a clenched fist; about 4-6 inches long and is purple in color. It is also surrounded by the rib cage, so it is difficult to feel it on a normal occasion unless it is unusually inflamed. The spleen can also be considered an enlarged lymph gland, although it is really part of the circulatory system. Despite its importance, however, the spleen is not considered an essential organ, as lack of it does not significantly alter quality of life. Its functions may be adopted by the liver or other organs.

Functions of the Spleen:
The spleen serves three very important functions, which are:

  • Production of lymphocytes- lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell that have the responsibility of making antibodies to foreign bodies that may attack. Antibodies serve to attack and neutralize pathogenic viruses, bacteria or fungi, this role being accomplished by an area referred to as the white pulp
  • Filtration- the other component of the spleen, known as red pulp, is involved with filtration of blood. Filtration involves removal of damaged or old blood cells from circulation. The red pulp also doubles as a store of erythrocytes, which may be released in times of need such as following an injury where excessive blood was lost or in hypovolemic shock. The old cells are engulfed by cells called macrophages, in a process called phagocytosis (engulfing). Macrophages also play a role in removal of pathogens as well
  • Preservation of iron- red blood cells that are destroyed by the spleen may still be in possession of their hemoglobin units. The iron from hemoglobin is spared, and is stored as ferritin or bilirubin in the spleen. These stores of iron are later transferred to the bone marrow, where synthesis of hemoglobin commences again

Conditions that may affect the Spleen:
Most conditions that affect the spleen result in enlargement of it, so they are frequently noticed early. These conditions can be diagnosed by various means including ultrasound, CT scan, MRIs or even something known as bone marrow biopsy. The most common diagnostic medium, however, is plain old examination by the physician (known as palpation), since it will be felt if it is inflamed.

Conditions that may affect the spleen include:

  • An enlarged spleen- this normally occurs secondarily to another condition, such as cancer of the blood, diseases of the liver or mononucleosis (viral)
  • Sickle Cell- most people know sickle cell disease thanks to the abnormally shaped red blood cells.  It is a type of anemia that is passed down in families and results in abnormal occlusion of blood cells to vessel walls and limit blood flow. Can lead to organ damage, especially the spleen
  • Thrombocytopenia- this is a condition that occurs when low number of platelets are available in the circulation. This sometimes occurs since an enlarged spleen stores more platelets than normal. The result is prolonged bleeding times since platelets play an important role in clotting
  • Spleen rupture- a spleen rupture may occur immediately or days after an injury and may occur with immense internal bleeding. It is life threatening and must be addressed right away

Interesting Facts about the Spleen:

  • Sometimes humans have an extra spleen, although smaller, attached to the stomach
  • The spleen is capable of regenerating itself if damaged in an injury or removed surgically
  • The spleen and liver achieve many functions in unity
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.