When learning about major organs in your body and the role they play in your daily life, you are probably most familiar with your heart, brain, lungs, liver and even your kidneys. Although each of these internal organs is extremely vital, other organs play supporting roles for daily functioning. The spleen is one such supporting organ. Discovering where the spleen is located and its purpose helps you better understand how all of your major organ systems operate.
About your spleen
Your spleen is in the upper left part of your abdomen and is protected by your rib cage behind your ninth and 11th rib. Although it's usually about 4 inches long and fist-shaped, it varies in size and shape and weighs between 5 and 7 ounces. The spleen is dark purple in color.
Composed of white pulp and red pulp tissue, the spleen is part of the lymphatic system, which is a drainage system designed to protect your body from infections. It filters and stores blood for the immune system by removing old red blood cells, which have a lifespan of about 120 days, and recycling iron. It also removes any abnormal red blood cells in the body. The spleen stores platelets, red blood cells and lymphocytes, which remove debris from your blood.
During pregnancy, a fetus's spleen makes red blood cells until it is 28 weeks old, at which point bone marrow takes over and continues to be the main producer of blood cells. If a child's bone marrow is unable to function properly, the spleen takes over to create red blood cells. This is also possible for adults who have certain blood disorders.
Potential spleen conditions
Spleens are susceptible to disease and injury. An enlarged spleen occurs in many conditions, including cancer, liver disease, viral infections, toxoplasmosis and blood disorders. Symptoms of an enlarged spleen are rare but can include trouble eating large meals or feeling discomfort toward the upper right portion of your abdomen. An enlarged spleen is often initially detected in a physical examination. Blood work that shows a low platelet count can also indicate an enlarged spleen because the organ stores excessive platelets. A licensed professional can verify whether you have an enlarged spleen with tests that include CT scans, ultrasounds or MRIs.
Because it is a nonvital organ, your spleen can be surgically removed if necessary though a splenectomy. However, the condition that causes an enlarged spleen is typically more of a concern than the enlarged spleen itself. After a bad injury or accident, your spleen can rupture, which can be lethal due to internal bleeding. Although you can live without a spleen, you may not respond as well to some vaccinations and you can become vulnerable to certain bacterial infections.