What Is The Function Of The Spleen?

Chances are that, when it comes to our major organs, most people know what they're for. They would know that the heart pumps blood, the lungs draw in air, the brain helps us to think, and so on. But, when it comes to some of the smaller, less-discussed organs, the average person might tend to draw a blank. 

Take the spleen for example. An organ about the size of your first, the spleen sits behind your ribs on the left side of your abdomen (via Cleveland Clinic). Although it's small, the spleen plays an important role in the lymphatic system and plays a number of roles when it comes to keeping your body functioning at peak performance.

One of the biggest jobs the spleen has, according to Medical News Today, is to filter out unwanted cells and platelets from the blood. The spleen has the ability to detect damaged and old red blood cells and break them down. It can also detect pathogens and produce white blood cells in response. This makes your spleen very useful in fighting off infections. Additionally, the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh notes that the spleen is useful for storing blood, which can be very helpful in situations when you happen to lose blood. In those cases, the spleen can help replenish the depleted supply.

Can you survive without your spleen?

There are a number of issues that can affect the spleen, according to WebMD. Your spleen can become enlarged, a condition known as "splenomegaly"), as a result of certain ailments such as mononucleosis, liver disease, and blood cancers. A ruptured spleen, caused by trauma, can lead to internal bleeding and is a very serious situation, requiring immediate medical intervention. In addition, you could be born with an accessory spleen. According to a 2022 study published in StatPearls, having a tiny extra spleen is more common than you'd think, with approximately 10 to 30% of people having one.

According to Harvard Medical School, despite the importance of a spleen, it's possible to live without one. However, people who have had to have their spleen removed as a result of illness or injury, have to be extra cautious. Certain infections, such as malaria, are much harder to prevent without a spleen to help filter out the blood. As a result, people who have had to lose their spleen should keep antibiotics with them — or, in the case of children, possibly be on a steady, regular course of antibiotics. If you find yourself in a situation where you are now without a spleen, you should talk to your doctor to find out what you can do to make sure you take any steps necessary to fight off infection.