The spleen is a small organ inside your left rib cage, just above the stomach. It’s part of the lymphatic system (which is part of the immune system). The spleen stores and filters blood and makes white blood cells that protect you from infection. Many diseases and conditions can affect how the spleen works. A ruptured (torn) spleen can be fatal.
Your spleen is a small organ that sits inside your left rib cage, just above your stomach. In adults, the spleen is about the size of an avocado. The spleen is part of your lymphatic system (which is part of your immune system). It does several important jobs to keep your body healthy.
Many different conditions, diseases, disorders and injuries affect how your spleen works. Providers usually treat the condition or illness that’s causing problems with the spleen. If necessary, healthcare providers can remove your spleen during a procedure called a splenectomy.
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There are two parts of the spleen. They each do different jobs. The types of tissue in the spleen are:
Many disorders, conditions, injuries and diseases can cause problems in the spleen. These problems include:
Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly): Several conditions can cause the spleen to swell and get too big. An enlarged spleen can cause pain and an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, even if you haven’t eaten much. Splenomegaly is a dangerous condition because the spleen can rupture (tear) or bleed. The spleen can become enlarged from:
Functional asplenia: This condition happens when your spleen doesn’t work as it should. It may overreact (hypersplenism) and destroy healthy red blood cells. Destroying too many blood cells can increase the risk of infection and lead to bruising and bleeding. Functional asplenia can result from:
Damaged or ruptured spleen: Your spleen can rupture (tear) from injuries and trauma. Car accidents and blows to the abdomen (belly) are common causes of spleen damage. This life-threatening injury can cause severe internal bleeding.
Symptoms of a ruptured spleen include:
To keep your spleen, lymphatic system and immune system working properly, you should drink plenty of water, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. By staying healthy, you’ll help your immune system protect you from infections and illness.
Although the spleen does many important jobs in the body, it is possible to live without one. Providers call this condition asplenia or living without a spleen.
Rarely, some people are born without a spleen. Sometimes, healthcare providers perform surgery to remove the spleen (splenectomy) because it’s damaged or diseased. Without the spleen, the liver takes over many of the spleen’s duties.
Splenectomy is also a treatment for different types of thrombocytopenia, including immune thrombocytopenia (ITP). These disorders cause low platelet levels in the body. Platelets are blood cells that help your blood clot.
People who live without a spleen have a higher risk of infection. If the spleen is missing or damaged, the body has a harder time protecting itself from bacteria and viruses. People who have other conditions that affect the immune system (such as cancer or HIV) are at a higher risk of infection.
If you’re living without a spleen or your spleen doesn’t work like it should, talk to your provider. You should stay up-to-date on vaccinations to help protect you from getting sick. Your provider may recommend taking daily antibiotics to prevent a bacterial infection. This may be important if you also have another condition that affects your immune system.
Call your provider if you have any symptoms of an enlarged or ruptured spleen, including:
You have a higher risk of spleen problems if you have certain conditions. These include some blood cancers, Gaucher disease or cystic fibrosis. People with a rare condition called hereditary spherocytosis are at a higher risk of severe anemia and may need to have the spleen removed. Talk to your provider if you have a family history of these conditions.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Your spleen is a small but important organ. It works hard to fight infection, remove old or damaged blood cells and keep fluids moving through your body. Many disorders, infections, injuries and diseases can cause problems in the spleen. Talk to your provider right away if you have pain in your rib cage on the left side. This could be a sign of a ruptured spleen, which is a life-threatening condition.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/29/2021.
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