Inner health – the spleen – where, what and how.

Hands up who knows where our spleen is and it’s function? Read on to find out more about this mystery organ.

Where

The spleen is located on the left-hand side of the body under the ribcage between the stomach and diaphragm. It’s oval in shape and usually measures around 12cm (5 inches) in length and positioned between the stomach, left kidney and left corner of the large intestine, all three organs leaving impressions in the concave surface of the spleen.

What

Ok, so we know where it is, but what does it do? What’s is its function?

We have all heard of ruptured spleens (usually as a result of a sporting injury) which can result in severe haemorrhaging and shock. Unfortunately, this may lead to a splenectomy (removal of the spleen) to stop the blood loss.

So, the spleen carries a fair amount of blood, why?

The spleen is the largest single mass of lymphatic tissue in the body and is major functions are:

  • Storage of platelets, up to 1/3 of the bodies platelets are stored in the spleen.
  • Production of antibodies which are delivered into the body via the blood and lymphatic fluid.
  • Removes defective red blood cells and platelets.
  • Storage site for blood which the body can be utilise in emergencies.
  • Produces blood cells within fetal life.

Lymphatic vessels, veins and arteries enter the spleen through a hilum (depression/fissure) and blood is transported into the spleen through the red and white pulp.

The red pulp removes old red blood cells and platelets and also is a major storage site for platelets. During fetal life blood cells are made in the red pulp.

The white pulp is lymphatic tissue, where lymphocytes (B and T cells) carry out immune functions and macrophages engulf and destroy blood-borne pathogens like bacteria. It also produces a range of white blood cells which are used within the spleen and are transported back into the body.

Due to the spleen’s role in immune function, individuals who have their spleen removed (splenectomy), require special management by health care providers to protect against infection as they are more prone to infection.

How

How can I support splenic function?

  • If you have any pain or concerns about the health of your spleen please talk to your doctor.
  • The spleen can sometimes become enlarged and occasionally painful and/or uncomfortable. Otherwise, people may be unaware that their spleen is enlarged, with no symptoms. An enlarged spleen may mean your bodies defence systems (immune system) are struggling. An enlarged spleen may be discover by your doctor during regular physical check-ups and further tests may be required.
  • Poor liver function may impact upon spleen health. The liver plays a major role in producing immune factors and blood filtering and cleaning, for example removing bacteria. If the liver is struggling, the spleen will step up and try to compensate, which may reduce it’s functionality.
  • Traditional Chinese medicine has many therapies that support spleen health. I cannot comment on the efficacy of these therapies.

Hopefully now you know a little more about the spleen!

Note: Now, I don’t have a Medical degree and I’m not a doctor. I’m sure all the doctors out there reading my blog will pick holes in my posts and that’s fine. I’m happy to be corrected where necessary.

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