The spleen was once thought to be the least useful organ in the body. But it's now understood that the spleen's function supports the immune system and iron production. It also has an essential connection to your liver. Keeping your spleen healthy is part of keeping yourself healthy.
Get to Know Your Spleen
As one of the least popular organs, there may be a lot you don't know about the spleen. The UMPC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh created an information guide for the curious. It explains that the spleen is in the upper-left side of your body beneath your ribs. It's a few inches long and doesn't weigh much.
That doesn't stop it from doing a lot for your body. The spleen filters your blood, breaking down malformed red blood cells for iron. It also filters microorganisms in your blood. The spleen also creates lymphocytes with the lymph nodes, producing antibodies to fight infections.
It impacts the functions of other organs as well. Spleen health impacts liver health, according to an August 2017 article in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. On the other hand, the same is true of liver health, which impacts spleen health, so keep them healthy.
Good Food for the Spleen
When your spleen function is optimal, there isn't much reason to think about it. That's why it's best to keep it healthy, so you don't ever need spleen support. An article in the April 2017 issue of the Journal of Translational Medicine suggests that food creates microbial shifts within 24 hours of consumption. Since the spleen filters out microorganisms, food directly impacts the spleen.
As noted in the Food Science and Nutrition article, the health of the liver and spleen connect. So eating foods that are good for your liver is good for your spleen. The study recommends foods that improve blood sugar for your spleen.
A common spleen issue is inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet is recommended to help. According to Harvard Health Publishing, some anti-inflammatory foods are tomatoes, olive oil, nuts, fatty fish and fruits such as berries and oranges.
Symptoms of Spleen Dysfunction
Your spleen impacts several aspects of your health. A healthy spleen makes it easier for your body to function. To avoid ending up with a spleen dysfunction, be aware of the symptoms.
A February 2019 article in NHS Inform noted that the symptoms of spleen dysfunction may include:
- Pain behind the left side of the rib cage, particularly if sensitive to touch
- Bruising easily
- Feeling full quickly after eating
- Bleeding easily
- Weakened immune system
Read more: Signs and Symptoms of Spleen Problems
Spleen Function and Dysfunction
While your spleen isn't vital to life, it plays an important role in your body, says a July 2016 MedlinePlus article. When spleen function starts to fail several different ailments can develop. Some examples of dysfunction include:
- Enlarged or swollen spleen
- Punctured or ruptured spleen
- Abnormalities leading to various diseases
Columbia Surgery notes, in its spleen disorders entry, that dysfunction can cause certain types of anemia as well.
Thrombocytopenia From Spleen Enlargement
When the spleen becomes enlarged, it can cause thrombocytopenia. It happens when the spleen breaks down too many red blood cells. This causes low platelet counts, increasing the risk for bleeding. Symptoms include bruising and abnormal bleeding — internally, in the rectum or vaginal areas.
Damaged or Ruptured Spleen
A damaged or ruptured spleen is usually accompanied by pain behind the left rib, according to the NHS Inform study. In addition to pain, you may experience dizziness due to blood loss. If you lie on your back with your legs in the air, you may feel pain in your left shoulder. However, you shouldn't try to diagnose this by yourself. If you suspect you have a ruptured spleen, seek immediate medical attention.
Enlarged or Swollen Spleen
An enlarged spleen can be caused by an infection or a more serious disease, according to the NHS study. Such conditions include but aren't limited to cirrhosis, leukemia and rheumatoid arthritis. Symptoms include discomfort behind the ribs, fatigue, anemia and feeling full quickly after eating. Sometimes, though, none of these symptoms are present.
You should seek medical attention if you suspect your spleen is swollen. Most of the cases require a doctor's support. There are several things you can do to prepare for your appointment if you're nervous. The important thing is to talk to a doctor to understand your symptoms.
- NHS Inform: "Spleen Problems and Spleen Removal"
- Columbia Surgery: "Spleen Disorders"
- MedlinePlus: Spleen Diseases Also Called: "Splenic Diseases"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Foods That Fight Inflammation"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Nutrition, Inflammation and Liver-Spleen Axis"
- Journal of Translational Medicine: "Influence of Diet on the Gut Microbiome and Implications for Human Health"
- UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh: "Spleen: Information, Surgery, & Functions"
- ScienceDirect: Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology: "Use of Analytic Morphomics of Liver, Spleen, and Body Composition to Identify Patients at Risk for Cirrhosis"