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The spleen plays a very important role in your health and the function of your body, so how is it that you can actually live without it?

Sometimes, through injury or disease, a person may have to have their spleen removed. When the whole organ is removed it is called a splenectomy, but sometimes only part of the spleen needs to be removed, which is called a partial splenectomy. The spleen plays a very important role in your health and the function of your body, so how is it that you can actually live without it?

The Role of the Spleen

The spleen is an organ that is located in the lower abdomen. The main priority of the spleen is to store red blood cells and purify them, removing the waste products. This purification process helps your immune system recognize any allergens or foreign pathogens, which results in the body fighting off the foreign invaders and infections.[1]

The spleen is made up of two main parts – white pulp and red pulp, both of which have their own role to play. The white pulp is involved in the production of blood cells and immune cells, whereas the red pulp removes old or dead blood cells and as mentioned before, purifies the blood.

Reasons for Removal

The most common reason for a splenectomy is following a traumatic event. Often it is due to a high-speed impact, such as in a vehicle crash, or a blunt force injury to the abdomen. These types of trauma can result in a ruptured spleen, meaning the organ itself has burst open, leading to internal bleeding, which is a life-threatening condition. When this occurs, the spleen is usually removed to prevent further blood loss.[1]

Sometimes, if the injury is not too severe, the spleen can be repaired, although historically, this wasn’t an option, and until recent years, the organ was always removed. However, due to the nature of the blood loss, there is often little time to try and repair the spleen, and a total splenectomy is the safest option.

There are a number of diseases that can necessitate the removal of the spleen. Some diseases can cause the spleen to swell, increasing the fragility of the organ and leading to the risk of rupture. Other diseases have the opposite effect, where the spleen shrivels and ceases to function. In this case, the term given is an auto-splenectomy, meaning the spleen has more or less removed itself.

Blood disorders more commonly cause problems with the spleen, and a disorder called ITP (idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura) is the most likely of these blood diseases to cause the need for a splenectomy. ITP affects the ability of the blood to clot, increasing the risk of bleeding, so taking the spleen out can be a form of treatment for the disease.

Other diseases that affect the spleen and may require a splenectomy include [2]:

  • Hereditary spherocytosis
  • Thalassemia
  • Hereditary elliptocytosis
  • Hereditary nonspherocytic hemolytic anemia
  • Splenic artery aneurism
  • Blood clot in the vessels of the spleen
  • Leukemia
  • Lymphoma
  • Abscess, cyst or infection of the spleen
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