about the spleen

Tell me anything you know about the spleen. What is it for, where can you find it in the human body, is it really possible to vent one’s spleen, etc.? Thanks, Teeming Millions!

The spleen is located on the left side of your body, just about opposite to the position of your liver, right next to the diaphragm and close to a bend in the colon (the splenic flexure).

It is basically one of the several filters your body has (liver and kidneys being the major ones) for eliminating stuff your body no longer needs. The spleen, IIRC, mainly recycles red blood cells, which get old and stop working well after 120 days on average. The spleen removes the dying RBC’s, and also serves several other immune functions which I can’t remember, but my roommate, who’s a medical student, could probably tell me.

Removal of the spleen (a splenectomy) is pretty common after major trauma to it, or if it’s severely infected. It basically serves redundant functions and isn’t absolutely necessary in adulthood, because the liver can also process RBC’s. However, in utero the spleen is the original source of RBC’s (the bone marrow won’t have fully developed until about a year post partum) and as such is absolutely necessary.

“Venting one’s spleen” is merely an expression, akin to speaking of “the pound of flesh nearest my heart.” I must admit I’ve no idea whence it comes.


There is, at least, one other thing that a normal spleen does that should make you want to hold onto it. The spleen is a primary site where lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) sit and sample what’s going through the blood. If they detect certain germs, these lymphocytes begin to make antibodies to help fight off the ‘foreign invader’. This is especially critical for dealing in time with certain infections such as pneumococcus (not just pneumonia), hemophilus influenza, and salmonella. People without a working spleen can die in hours from these bugs due to overwhelming infection.

KarlGauss, thanks: I knew I was forgetting something. Damnit, i took anatomy/physiology far too long ago. :slight_smile:


Historically, teh spleen was once considered the source of violent emotions, particularly anger. Thus the anecdote about Balzac when asked at a party whether he wrote from the heart or from the head replying:

“From the spleen, madame.”

And “The pound of flesh nearest one’s heart” comes from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, where it was the stated collateral for a loan.

I read a heart breaking article once about a vet in a small town who had to quit his job.

A cow kicked the poor man hard enough to rupture his spleen (among other things) and it had to be removed. Because of this working on dogs and, especially, cats, could be life-threatening. Apparently cats and dogs have certain bugs that will kill someone who doesn’t have a spleen.


Don’t feel bad about leaving out one part…

I was impressed enough to think you could have been my A&P

Good answer!


Nope, I no longer even aspire to become a professor. Can’t stand the lot of 'em. I’ll probably be a labrat the rest of my life, but it’s better than… them. :slight_smile:

However, I had an extremely good A/P teacher in high school (six years ago now… wow.)

Thanks for the compliment. My first “Good answer!” :smiley:


Thanks guys! great answer from Lazlong, karlgauss, spiritus mundi!

(relieved that no one tried to drag "The Mystery men’ movie into this…)

You apparently need to keep your spleen if you want to be an astronaut. A guy I know nearly had his spleen removed because of a wicked case of mononucleosis, and it’s a good thing he didn’t, because he wants to be an astronaut.

I think you need to be pretty much intact in all respects to be an astronaut. I would suspect that anything more radical than an appendectomy or tonsilectomy, or broken bones, will get you bounced from the program. They especially want your heart in working condition.

I know I can’t be an astronaut; I have a little metal clip in my head that would prevent me. <sigh>


"I would suspect that anything more radical than an appendectomy or tonsilectomy, or broken bones, will get you bounced from the program"

Actually, Deke Slayton, one of the original astronauts suffered from atrial fibrillation - an irregular heart rhythm. Although he initially lost his flight status, it was subsequently restored and he did make it into space.

It is worth emphasizing that atrial fibrillation is usually chronic or intermittent. I doubt that anyone can ever guarantee that it’s been cured. So, hats off to NASA for being reasonable.