immune; system; lymph; antibodies; germs; blood; cells; bone; marrow; spleen;
|The spleen is an organ which is found in the left upper part of the abdomen (tummy) just under the diaphragm (say 'di-a-fram), and is protected by the 9th to 12th ribs.
What it looks like
It is about the size and shape of your fist.
It is soft and dark red in colour.
What it does
The spleen plays several important roles in the human body.
- Before the birth of a baby it works to produce the baby's red blood cells. It gradually stops this before the birth and leaves this job to the bone marrow.
- It catches and gets rid of red blood cells that are not working properly because they are abnormal or have become too old to be useful. It can recycle the iron in these red blood cells to help make new healthy red blood cells.
- It is part of the immune system.
- It makes some types of white blood cells (called macrophages and lymphocytes - say: mac-row-fah-jes and lim-foh-sites) which can go to other parts of the body when they are needed. These help to protect the body from infections.
- As well as blood there is another fluid which travels around the body called lymph (say limf). Lymph passes through the spleen where germs and other 'foreign bodies' are caught by white blood cells.
- The spleen also makes chemicals called antibodies which help the fight against some infections.
Problems with the spleen
- Sometimes the spleen can be ruptured (say rup-cherd). This means that it has been burst open by being hit hard. This can happen in contact sports like footy or in road accidents.
- Sometimes the spleen can be enlarged through an infection such as glandular fever, or disease of the liver (such as cirrhosis (say si-row-sis) - which may be caused by drinking too much alcohol) or cancers such as leukaemia (say loo-keem-i-a). Sometimes the spleen can rupture because it has become too large.
- Sometimes the spleen destroys too many red blood cells and the person can become anaemic (say an-ee-mik) and need a blood transfusion.
Sometimes the spleen may need to be removed by a surgeon. If this needs to be done the body can continue working well without it except that the person may be more likely to get some infections.
Some interesting stuff about the spleen
Over the years people have had many ideas about the spleen.
They thought that someone had problems with their spleen if they were angry, sad, or were hypochondriacs (say hi-po-kon-dree-aks). Hypochondriacs are people who spend much of their time believing there is something wrong with them when they are not actually sick.
In ancient times people thought that the body was full of different 'humours' (body fluids) which could lead to changes in how people feel. They thought that the spleen was responsible for making people feel really sad (called melancholy [mel-an-col-y]) because they thought it made a black liquid which was called bile (this is not at all like the bile that is made by the liver).
A long time ago women who were in a bad mood were thought to be suffering from 'vapours' caused by the spleen.
Have you ever read about someone 'venting their spleen'? This means that they were being nasty, angry and mean to others.
Dr Kim says
How complicated our bodies are! We have many other topics about the body and how it all works. Click on the category Your Body to find out what they are. The spleen works as part of the immune system. Click here to find out more about that.
We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.