Your spleen is an often overlooked organ that serves as important accessory function for your immune system. It acts as a big filtration system for your blood and lymph. The spleen is brownish in color and is located in the upper left side of your body (under the rib cage).
It receives both blood from the circulation system and lymph from the lymphatic system. The spleen has two layers that perform most of its functions called the red pulp and the white pulp.
- The red pulp acts as a filter to remove old, damaged or dead red blood cells from the circulation. In doing so, it breaks down haemoglobin and recycles the parts to be used when making new red blood cells. The red pulp also holds a reserve of blood for use during situations of large blood loss or trauma.
- The white pulp is important in the immune function of the organ. It makes antibodies and also removes antibody coated bacteria and cells. In this way it acts like a magnet, removing all the things your immune system has identified as being hazardous. The white pulp can also house white blood cells like monocytes and macrophages to aid in recognition and destruction of invaders.
During development, the spleen is also important in making red blood cells for the fetus. This function turns off at birth and switches over to the bone marrow.
Sometimes the spleen must be removed due to injury caused by trauma or illness. A person can survive without a spleen but can be at risk of developing certain types of infections or more at risk of dying from pneumonia. Most often a spleen can rupture during contact sports or when enlarged due to infection.