Life without a spleen: function of the spleen
The spleen is an organ that weighs just 150 grams and is located behind the stomach. Since the spleen is important to our body, doctors try to preserve the organ for as long as possible. The spleen essentially fulfills two functions in our body:
- Defense against bacteria (pathogens)
- Filtering blood (old red blood cells)
Life without a spleen: consequences of distance
- After removal of the spleen, patients are more susceptible to bacterial infections . Because the spleen wards off such diseases, some infections in people without a spleen can be significantly more dangerous to the body.
- Sepsis in particular , i.e. blood poisoning, can occur when the immune system stops working after an infection. Sepsis leads to death in approximately 50 percent of affected patients, while those who survive often have to have limbs amputated. However, this can be prevented with preventive vaccinations (see next section).
- Likewise, after a spleen has been removed, the number of platelets (thrombocytes) in the blood may increase in people , which leads to an increased risk of thrombosis.
Life without a spleen: vaccinations as protection
Medicine considers three vaccinations to be absolutely necessary after removing a spleen:
- Haemophilus influenzae type b
- In addition, the flu vaccination is recommended
Pneumococci are considered to be the most urgent of the three vaccinations for patients. Pneumococcal bacterial infections are the leading cause of sepsis. The vaccinations have to be refreshed every three to five years as they do not provide permanent protection against illness.
Life without a spleen: consult a doctor
- Even if vaccinations provide good protection against bacteria such as pneumococci, they are not guaranteed to protect the body. Patients without a spleen should therefore contact a doctor immediately if an infection emerges . Quick action is also required in the event of an animal bite, as there is also a risk of sepsis.
- Since doctors are also not available around the clock, it makes sense to have an emergency antibiotic prescribed for you. So if, for example, an infection occurs on a trip and no doctor is available, the antibiotic can protect you from serious complications. However, it is not yet clear whether an antibiotic can also be used for prevention.
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