Spleen: Function, location, problems

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THE spleen is the largest organ in the lymphatic system. It is an important organ for keeping bodily fluids balanced, but it is possible to live without it.
The spleen is located under the ribcage and above the stomach in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen. A spleen is soft and generally looks purple. It is made up of two different types of tissue. The red pulp tissue filters the blood and gets rid of old or damaged red blood cells. The white pulp tissue consists of immune cells (T cells and B cells) and helps the immune system fight infection.
“The spleen . . . acts as a blood filter; it controls the amount of red blood cells and blood storage in the body, and helps to fight infection,” said Jordan Knowlton, an advanced registered nurse practitioner at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital. If the spleen detects potentially dangerous bacteria, viruses, or other microorganisms in the blood, it — along with the lymph nodes — creates white blood cells called lymphocytes, which act as defenders against invaders, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The lymphocytes produce antibodies to kill the foreign microorganisms and stop infections from spreading.
According to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, when blood flows into the spleen, red blood cells must pass through narrow passages within the organ. Healthy blood cells can easily pass, but old or damaged red blood cells are broken down by large white blood cells. The spleen will save any useful components from the old blood cells, including iron, so they can be reused in new cells. The spleen can increase in size in order to store blood. The organ can widen or narrow, depending on the body’s needs. At its largest, the spleen can hold up to a cup of reserve blood.
According to Knowlton, spleen lacerations or ruptures “usually occur from trauma (like a car accident or contact sports).” These emergency situations cause a break in the spleen’s surface and can lead to “severe internal bleeding and signs of shock (fast heart rate, dizziness, pale skin, fatigue),” said Knowlton. The Mayo Clinic reported that without emergency care, the internal bleeding could become life-threatening. On the continuum of spleen breakage, a laceration refers to a lower-grade extent of injury, in which just a part of the spleen is damaged. A ruptured spleen is the highest grade of broken spleen injury, according to HealthTap, an online network of doctors who answer health questions.

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