What is a Spleen: Anatomy, Function and Disorders Explained

The spleen is an often overlooked organ in the human body, yet it plays a vital role in our overall health. It is part of the lymphatic system and works closely with the immune system to help fight off infections and diseases. However, despite its importance, many people are unaware of what the spleen is, where it is located, or what it does. Furthermore, there are several disorders that can affect the spleen, such as an enlarged spleen or spleen pain, which can cause discomfort and even lead to serious health complications if left untreated. In this article, we will explore the anatomy, function, and disorders of the spleen to help you better understand this crucial organ and what you can do to keep it healthy.

Anatomy of the Spleen

Location of the Spleen

The spleen is a vital organ in the human body that plays a crucial role in maintaining good health. It is located in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen, behind the stomach and just below the diaphragm. Specifically, the spleen is positioned between the 9th and 11th ribs on the left side of the body.

While the spleen is relatively small, it has an essential function in filtering blood, removing abnormal cells, and producing white blood cells that help fight infection. In addition, the spleen stores red blood cells and platelets that can be released into circulation as needed.

Knowing where the spleen is located is essential for understanding how this critical organ interacts with other organs and systems in the body. Put simply, the spleen’s location allows it to perform its functions effectively and efficiently. Without the spleen, the body’s immune system would be significantly weakened, and severe health problems could arise.

In some cases, the location of the spleen may shift slightly due to certain medical conditions or surgical procedures. For example, an enlarged spleen (known as splenomegaly) may cause the spleen to extend beyond its normal location, leading to discomfort or pain in the upper left abdomen. In extreme cases, a ruptured spleen may require emergency surgery to remove the organ altogether.

Overall, understanding where the spleen is located is an important step in appreciating its critical functions in the body. Whether you are a healthcare professional or someone interested in learning more about human anatomy, knowing the role of the spleen and its location can help you better understand how your body works.

Structure of the Spleen

Structure of the Spleen

The spleen is an organ located in the upper-left region of the abdomen. It is an important part of the immune system and acts as a blood filtration system. The structure of the spleen is divided into two main areas: the white pulp and the red pulp.

White Pulp

White pulp is composed of lymphoid tissue and is responsible for filtering blood and initiating an immune response to foreign antigens. It contains T-cells, B-cells, and dendritic cells which work together to identify and neutralize pathogens.

Red Pulp

Red pulp makes up the majority of the spleen’s structure and is composed of red blood cells, platelets, and macrophages. Its primary function is to filter blood by removing unhealthy red blood cells and recycling iron from hemoglobin.

Splenic Artery and Vein

The spleen receives its blood supply from the splenic artery and vein. The splenic artery branches into smaller arterioles as it enters the spleen, which then further divide into capillaries. These capillaries lead into the sinusoids of the red pulp where blood filtration takes place. Once filtered, the blood is collected by the splenic vein and returned to circulation through the portal vein.

Understanding the structure of the spleen is essential to understanding its functions and potential disorders. Any damage or dysfunction to the splenic artery or vein can result in serious conditions such as splenic infarction or splenic rupture. Therefore, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and seek medical attention if experiencing any symptoms related to the spleen.

Function of the Spleen

Immune System Function

The immune system is a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body from harmful invaders. One critical function of the immune system is its ability to produce lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that plays a key role in defending against infections and diseases.

Lymphocytes are produced in bone marrow and mature in either the thymus gland or lymphoid tissue. There are two main types of lymphocytes: B cells and T cells. B cells produce antibodies, which are proteins that can recognize and neutralize specific pathogens such as bacteria or viruses. T cells, on the other hand, can directly attack infected cells or cancer cells.

When a pathogen enters the body, it activates the immune system and triggers the production of specific antibodies by B cells. These antibodies bind to the surface of the pathogen, marking it for destruction by other cells in the immune system such as macrophages. T cells also play a critical role in immunity by releasing chemicals that can kill infected cells or activate other immune cells.

Without proper functioning of the immune system and lymphocytes, the body would be highly susceptible to infections and diseases. In fact, some medical conditions such as HIV can cause severe damage to the immune system, making individuals more vulnerable to infections.

In summary, the immune system’s function in producing lymphocytes such as B cells and T cells, as well as their ability to create targeted antibodies, is crucial to maintaining a healthy immune response. Understanding this process can help us appreciate the complexity and importance of our immune system and the role it plays in keeping us healthy.

Blood Filtration

Blood filtration is one of the crucial functions performed by the spleen. The spleen filters blood as it passes through its tissues to remove and recycle old red blood cells, store platelets, and produce new red blood cells.

The spleen manages the removal of aged red blood cells from circulation in cooperation with the liver. When the red blood cells pass through small vessels called sinuses within the spleen, they come into contact with macrophages or specialised immune cells. Macrophages break down the red blood cells and separate their components into heme and globin. Heme iron is then processed into bilirubin, which is excreted into bile and eliminated via feces. Globin is reused for making new proteins.

Apart from recycling red blood cells, the spleen also stores platelets. Platelets are essential for blood clotting, and the spleen serves as a reservoir for them. In case of an injury, the spleen can release the stored platelets to aid in clot formation.

Moreover, the spleen plays a role in producing red blood cells, particularly during fetal development. Although it’s not the organ primarily responsible for this function in adults, it can still produce some red blood cells when required, such as in cases of chronic anemia.

In conclusion, blood filtration is a crucial function of the spleen that involves removing old red blood cells, storing platelets and assisting in the production of new red blood cells. Dysfunction of the spleen can lead to several medical conditions, including anemia, thrombocytopenia, and splenomegaly.

Spleen Disorders

Enlarged Spleen

Enlarged Spleen

An enlarged spleen, also known as splenomegaly, is a condition where the spleen becomes larger than its normal size. The spleen is an important organ located in the upper left part of the abdomen. Its main functions include filtering blood and removing old or damaged red blood cells.

Causes of Enlarged Spleen

There are many factors that can cause an enlarged spleen. Some of the common causes include:

  • Infections: viral infections such as mononucleosis, bacterial infections such as endocarditis, and parasitic infections such as malaria can all lead to an enlarged spleen.
  • Liver disease: liver diseases such as cirrhosis, hepatitis C, and fatty liver disease can cause an enlarged spleen.
  • Blood diseases: certain blood disorders such as leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell anemia can cause the spleen to enlarge.
  • Pressure on the spleen: conditions that increase pressure on the spleen, such as portal hypertension, can cause it to become enlarged.


Many people with an enlarged spleen may not experience any symptoms, while others may have mild to severe symptoms. Some common symptoms of an enlarged spleen include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the upper left part of the abdomen that may spread to the left shoulder
  • Feeling full after eating only a small amount of food
  • Fatigue
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Recurring infections

It is important to note that these symptoms can be indicative of other medical conditions as well, so it’s important to consult a doctor if you experience any of them.

In conclusion, an enlarged spleen can be caused by a variety of factors, including infections, liver disease, blood disorders, and pressure on the spleen. If you experience any symptoms of an enlarged spleen, it is important to seek medical attention to determine the cause and receive proper treatment.

Spleen Pain

Spleen Pain: Causes, Treatment and When to See a Doctor

Spleen pain can be a sign of an underlying medical condition that requires prompt treatment. In this section, we will discuss the common causes of spleen pain, treatment options, and when to seek medical attention.

Causes of Spleen Pain

The most common cause of spleen pain is an enlarged spleen, also known as splenomegaly. This condition can occur due to several reasons, such as liver disease, blood disorders, or infection. Other conditions that may cause spleen pain include:

  • Trauma to the abdomen
  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Cancer in the spleen or nearby organs
  • Blood clot in the splenic vein

If you experience sudden or intense pain in the left upper part of your abdomen, it could be a sign of a ruptured spleen. Seek emergency medical attention if you suspect a ruptured spleen, as it can cause life-threatening bleeding.


The treatment for spleen pain depends on the underlying cause. If your doctor diagnoses an enlarged spleen, they may recommend medications such as antibiotics or corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and treat any underlying infections.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to remove the spleen. A splenectomy is usually performed if the spleen is damaged or diseased, or if it is causing severe pain or other complications.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience persistent or severe spleen pain, it is essential to see a doctor immediately. Other signs that warrant medical attention include:

  • Abdominal tenderness or swelling
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Palpitations or rapid heartbeat

If you have a history of spleen problems or are at risk of developing them, speak with your doctor about preventive measures to reduce your risk of complications.

In conclusion, spleen pain can be a symptom of various medical conditions, and prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial for a successful outcome. If you experience frequent or severe spleen pain, seek medical attention immediately to prevent further complications.

Spleen Removal

Spleen Removal

Spleen removal, also known as splenectomy, is a surgical procedure that involves the complete or partial removal of the spleen. It may be recommended by a doctor in cases where the spleen is damaged, diseased or not functioning properly.

Reasons for Spleen Removal

There are several reasons why a person may need to have their spleen removed. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • Trauma: In cases of severe trauma, such as a car accident, the spleen can become ruptured and require removal.
  • Cancer: If cancer has spread to the spleen, it may need to be removed to prevent further spread.
  • Blood disorders: Certain blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, may require spleen removal.
  • Infection: In rare cases, an infection in the spleen may require removal of the organ.

Risks and Complications

Like any surgery, spleen removal comes with certain risks and potential complications. Some of these include:

  • Infection: The risk of infection is higher after spleen removal, as the spleen plays a key role in fighting infections.
  • Bleeding: There is a risk of bleeding during or after the surgery.
  • Blood clots: Blood clots may form after spleen removal, which can be dangerous if they travel to other parts of the body.
  • Long-term effects: Removing the spleen can increase a person’s risk of developing certain infections and blood disorders over time.

It is important to discuss the risks and potential complications with a doctor before undergoing spleen removal. In some cases, alternative treatments may be available.

In conclusion, spleen removal is a serious surgical procedure that should only be considered in cases where it is absolutely necessary. While there are risks and potential complications associated with the surgery, it may be the best option for individuals with certain medical conditions.
The spleen is a vital organ that plays an essential role in the immune system and blood filtration. With its unique structure and functions, it helps to protect our body against infections, diseases, and other harmful agents. However, like any other organ, the spleen is also prone to various disorders, such as splenomegaly, spleen pain, and splenectomy. Therefore, it is crucial to take good care of your spleen by adopting healthy habits, staying active, and seeking medical attention if needed. By understanding the anatomy, function, and disorders of the spleen, we can better appreciate the complexity and beauty of our bodies and live healthier lives. So, let us cherish our spleen and all the other organs that make us who we are and keep us going strong.

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