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The spleen is the organ that is responsible for both the storage and purification of red blood cells. It is positioned in the left upper abdomen, and is the largest organ of the lymphatic system.

The spleen serves a critical role in immune function because it purifies the blood and helps the immune system to recognize and attack foreign pathogens and allergens.

The spleen is composed of the red pulp and white pulp. The white pulp produces and grows immune cells as well as blood cells. On the other hand, the red pulp is responsible for purifying the blood and removing dead or old blood cells.

The condition known as splenomegaly exists when the spleen becomes enlarged due to disease. When this occurs the spleen can ultimately rupture and cause additional damage. Splenomegaly has been associated with the following diseases: mononucleosis, sickle cell disease, and cancer. It is also associated with thrombocytopenia, the term for low platelet count. Platelets are blood cells that help with clotting.

The surgical procedure splenectomy is often needed to remove an enlarged spleen. When the spleen is removed the liver will assume the portion of the spleen's responsibility for fighting infections and coordinating the immune system.

Written and medically reviewed by the Healthline Editorial Team
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In Depth: Spleen

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