Everyone knows (more or less) what the heart is for, or the lung or the stomach, but few know what the spleen is for . A wonderful organ in its simplicity, but always very underrated! It’s definitely worth a closer look, so starting today you too will be able to answer this question: What is the spleen good for? Let’s start by saying that the spleen is an internal organ that produces white blood cells with the function of freeing the blood from the “old” red blood cells. The spleen is not essential for life because, if removed, the bone marrow and liver complete their work.
The spleen is an ovoid-shaped internal organ about the size of a fist, located on the left side of the abdomen, near the stomach and the pancreas, below the diaphragm. The spleen produces white blood cells, also cleansing the blood of aging red blood cells. Its functions also include checking the presence of pathogens or particles outside the body. It helps to filter the blood and works by purifying waste. It stores platelets to fight infections, that is, it has an immune action. In addition, the spleen, during digestion, transforms food and transports nutrients.
The spleen in length is 12 cm wide and 8 cm. wide, with a thickness of 3 cm and an average weight of 202 grams in men and 168 grams in women, it is not an essential element for human life: in the case of elimination there are other internal organs, such as the liver and bone marrow, which take over the functions of this organ.The spleen is made up of red and white tissue. The white part produces lymphocytes and is related to the immune system. The red part has a filtering function and stores blood with platelets that perform antibacterial functions and antibodies to viruses and bacteria.
What pathologies can the spleen present?
Among the pathologies of the spleen we remember hypertrophy , when the organ works too much (with symptoms such as anemia, leukopenia, thrombocytopenia and splenomegaly, which manifests itself even in the case of cancer, problems in blood levels and some circulating infectious diseases and diseases parasitic diseases, such as toxoplasmosis, mononucleosis, hepatitis, endocarditis, typhoid, syphilis and malaria), while the most serious complication is a ruptured spleen, which can be caused by trauma.
Hemolytic anemia: It is when the spleen is altered and destroys red blood cells more than it should, even those that are in good condition.
Idiopathic thrombotic disease : The spleen destroys platelets. Small red spots can be seen on the skin.
Thrombocytopenic thrombotic disease : It affects the capillaries and is related to the immune system. There is fever, anemia, small hemorrhages.
Usually, when a lasting physical effort is made, the pain in the spleen is also intense, which does not necessarily indicate the presence of pathologies of another nature. This disorder usually disappears when the exertion ends and the body rests again. The body can also adapt to exercise and no longer show pain.
What is splenomegaly?
Splenomegaly is the pathological enlargement of the spleen or its splenic structure outside its normal dimensions. It is generally asymptomatic, although there may be an inability to eat abundantly, discomfort in the left upper quadrant below the rib cage.
When there is splenomegaly, physical exercise should be avoided, especially to avoid any trauma that could cause the spleen to rupture. It will be necessary to refer to a specialist to carry out the appropriate treatment.
The spleen can be removed, people can live without it since the liver assumes its functions, although they are more prone to certain diseases and infections due to its action related to the immune system.
What is the spleen for
As a blood and lymphatic vascular organ, it provides the metabolism of iron, it is the site of formation (hematopoiesis), accumulation and destruction (hemocateresis) of blood cells. It also destroys bacteria and every inert particle that is carried by the bloodstream; then accumulates large amounts of platelets that are released into the circulation in case of need (for example, in the presence of stress or strong stress).
The functions listed above are performed by the spleen during the adult phase; Instead, during embryonic development, the spleen produces red and white blood cells. After birth, this function is taken over by the bone marrow and the spleen limits its activity to the production of certain types of white blood cells and the destruction of senescent and now inefficient red blood cells. To summarize, here are the functions of the spleen in detail:
- Allows the maturation of the elements of the red series: in the spleen the maturation and modeling of reticulocytes (recently formed red blood cells) is completed
- Hematopoietic function: allows the synthesis of blood cells, typical of fetal life, which can be reactivated even in the adult in an emergency, for example, after heavy bleeding.
- Erythrocyte removal: Macrophages in the spleen remove old or malfunctioning red blood cells from the bloodstream; This function, both quantitative and qualitative, is called hemocateresis and also extends to lymphocytes and platelets.
- Lymphopoietic function: produces white blood cells);
- Antibody-giving function: produces IgM and IgG antibodies (the spleen therefore has a primary immune function and contributes to increasing the body’s defenses);
- Opsonin synthesis: The spleen produces macromolecules that facilitate the “tagging” of macrophage activity and the signaling of certain foreign substances, which would otherwise be difficult for the immune system to recognize.
- Blood reservoir : the spleen acts as a “reservoir” of blood, which the body can draw if necessary. This function becomes important only in pathological conditions (splenomegaly). Iron, platelets, and some populations of lymphocytes are also deposited in the spleen.
Is the spleen an indispensable organ? What happens when the spleen is removed?
Due to all the tasks listed above, patients who have undergone removal operations may face certain special conditions. To learn more about the laws: Is the spleen an indispensable organ? If it is eliminated, what can happen? The spleen is not essential for life , its function is supplied by the bone marrow and the liver in case of removal.
What happens when the spleen does not work?
Among the diseases that affect the spleen we recall the hypersplenic syndrome , when the organ functions too much (with symptoms such as anemia, leukopenia, thrombocytopenia and splenomegaly, which also occurs in cases of malignancy, blood circulation problems and some infectious and parasitic diseases such as toxoplasmosis , mononucleosis, hepatitis, endocarditis, typhoid, syphilis, and malaria), while the most serious complication is a ruptured spleen, which can be caused by trauma.
What does it mean to feel pain in the spleen area?
Feeling pain in the spleen area tends to scare patients, but most of the time, this pain does not indicate pathology. This is the case, for example, of pain during intense sport. Usually, when prolonged physical exertion is carried out, severe pain in the spleen is experienced, which does not necessarily indicate the presence of other pathologies. This disorder usually disappears when the effort ends and the body rests again. But why do you feel pain in the spleen during your efforts? It may be that the pain is linked to a transient splenic ischemia due to the blood spilled in the musclesin activity. In this case, the body tends to adapt to exercise and stops feeling the discomfort.
What is hypersplenic syndrome?
In practice, hypersplenic syndrome occurs when the spleen is overactive. Symptoms include anemia, leukopenia, and splenomegaly.Usually, when you overexert yourself or run without being trained and warmed up, you may feel a sting or pain in your spleen – this should not cause concern. You should see a doctor only if the pain shows no signs of diminishing or disappearing. The pain should go away when the effort is over and when you are resting.
What happens when the spleen does not work?
Among the diseases that affect the spleen we remember the hypersplenic syndrome , when the organ functions too much (with symptoms such as anemia, leukopenia, thrombocytopenia and splenomegaly, which also occurs in cases of malignancy, blood circulation problems and some infectious and parasitic diseases such as toxoplasmosis , mononucleosis, hepatitis, endocarditis, typhoid, syphilis, and malaria), while the most serious complication is a ruptured spleen, which can be caused by trauma
A ruptured spleenIt can be caused by violent trauma (such as traffic accidents, a very strong fist, a bullet…). However, there are some circumstances, not so rare, in which the spleen becomes particularly susceptible to rupture, also due to modest or insignificant trauma, such as coughing, sneezing, retching, straining to defecate or too vigorous palpation of the organ. In general, the risk of spontaneous ruptures or secondary to minimal trauma is high with splenomegaly (an enlarged spleen), especially if it is severe. Here, then, is that spleen rupture becomes more common during certain diseases, such as infectious mononucleosis, malaria, schistosomiasis, cirrhosis, hemolytic anemias (eg, thalassemia), Gaucher disease, sarcoidosis, leukemia Hairy cells, chronic myelogenous leukemia, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, etc. For this reason, in these individuals (for example, children with infectious mononucleosis), physicians discourage contact sports or high-risk trauma.
How to diagnose a ruptured spleen?
The essential diagnostic means are CT and ultrasound, which confirm the suspicion that arose from the physical examination of the patient; Peritoneal lavage also has an important diagnostic utility (a small catheter, a flexible plastic tube, is inserted into the abdomen to aspirate and analyze the aspirated fluid for the presence of blood).
Spleen rupture treatment
Spleen injuries can be minor or large. Vast splenic injuries transform a ruptured spleen into a true medical emergency, requiring immediate surgery to stop internal bleeding and save the patient’s life. In the case of more superficial trauma, a ruptured spleen can be treated conservatively, hospitalizing the patient for a few days and observing the evolution of the situation towards eventual spontaneous recovery.
In conclusion, it can be said that the spleen is an important but not essential organ for human survival. In the event of removal, the bone marrow and liver supply the function.
Dr. Samantha Robson ( CRN: 0510146-5) is a nutritionist and website content reviewer related to her area of expertise. With a postgraduate degree in Nutrition from The University of Arizona, she is a specialist in Sports Nutrition from Oxford University and is also a member of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.