Can You Live Without a Spleen?

Spleen, an abdominal organ that forms a part of lymphatic and immune system, is an organ as big as a fist, right under the stomach and on the left side. Spleen is responsible for holding a reserve of spare blood, removing old and damaged cells, regulating body fluids and fighting infections as it is the center of activity of mononuclear phagocyte system. Splenic rupture and swelling are often a consequence of certain injuries and diseases, and an extremely damaged spleen may need to be surgically removed. With so many important functions, can human being live without a spleen?

Can You Live Without A Spleen?

Much to everyone’s surprise, one can surely live without a spleen. In fact, many people undergo splenectomy, a surgery done to remove spleen completely or a part of it. Since the organ plays an important role in fighting against micro-organisms causing infections, the complete removal of spleen may very well make one prone to infections.

With partial removal of spleen, one can lead a healthy life. Around 30% of people have a second or an accessory spleen that is small, but may grow and become active on removal of the main organ. While organs like liver have regenerating capacity, spleen lacks any such ability.

Risks You Will Have without a Spleen

Although you get a postive answer to the question, "Can you live without a spleen?" there are still issues to untangle. Like all the other surgical procedures, splenectomy carries its own set of risks and complications, which, if not managed properly, may prove to be fatal as well. These complications include:

  • Spleen helps to ward off infections. Without it, you may prone to bacterial infections. The most dangerous causative bacteria are Streptococcus pneumonia, Neisseria meningitides and Haemophilus influenza, leading to pneumonia, meningitis and some other serious infections. Vaccine before surgery can greatly prevent these kind of infection.
  • Another kind of infection is overwhelming post splenectomy infections (OPSI).It is responsible for death in 50% of cases because such infections often develop quickly making a person severely ill. These life threatening infections are more common in people below age 5 and those who’ve had an operation in recent 2 years.
  • Other complications includes clot in vein carrying blood to liver, hernia at site of incision, infection at the site of incision, pancreatitis, lung collapse and injury to stomach, pancreas and colon

Require immediate medical attention, if you have:

•     Bleeding

•     Chills

•     Shortness of breath

•     Cough

•     Difficulty drinking

•     Difficulty eating

•     Abdominal swelling

•     Continuous pain that doesn’t respond to medicines

•     Increased redness, pain or pus at the site of incision

•     Persistent nausea and vomiting

•     Fever over 101°F

How to Live a Healthy Life without a Spleen?

Can you live without a spleen? Yes, but can you lead a healthy life? Yes, however for improving the quality of life post-splenectomy, the following things should be kept in mind:

1. Get Vaccinations

Apart from the routine vaccinations that one has during childhood, make sure that you’ve been vaccinated against the following as well:

  • Pneumococcal infections with boosters every 5 years
  • Flu
  • Hemophilus influenza type b
  • Meningitis C

2. Look Out for Infections

Keep a tab on all signs and symptoms that indicate an infection, so that your GP can start the antibiotic course as soon as possible or even admit you in the hospital if required. Features indicating an infection are:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Severe headache
  • Cough
  • Headache with drowsiness or rash
  • Abdominal pain

3. Take Antibiotics

Lifetime intake of low-dose antibiotics is recommended after complete spleen removal in order to prevent bacterial infections. These are specifically important in:

  • First 2 years after splenectomy
  • People with an improperly functioning immune system
  • Children below 16

4. Make Your Condition Noticed

Can you live without a spleen? Yes, but you have to make you condition noticed. Once splenectomy has been performed, make sure you inform all your healthcare providers during future consultations about the organ absence. Be it a doctor or a dentist, both should be aware of your condition. Wearing a medical ID is another efficient way of informing people about your condition especially in emergencies. You can do this by wearing a MedicAlert or Medi-Tag bracelet or pendant or alerting the staff through a splenectomy card provided by the hospital.

5. Avoid Tick and Animal Bites

Tick or small blood sucking parasite bite as well as animal bites especially a dog bite can result in serious infections. People involved in activities like trekking and camping should be specifically cautious as they may be infected with tick transmitted rare diseases like babesiosis. Your body should be completely covered during such activities and unusual symptoms should be immediately reported to a doctor.

6. Take Extra Care with International Travel

While travelling, be extra cautious and avoid travelling to areas where malaria is endemic to prevent from contracting severe malaria. Make sure you carry anti-malarial drugs like antibiotics, and get an extra vaccination against meningitis vaccination or any other travel vaccinations.

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