Mind & Body

Your Spleen Can Multiply Into Accessory Spleens

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Ask anyone if they know what a spleen does, and nine out of ten times they'll probably either look at you with a blank stare or maybe say "it's one of those organs you don't really need." While it's true that a person can live without their spleen, this orange wedge-sized organ is pretty underrated. Oh yeah, and it can multiply into what's called accessory spleens.

No, It's Not a Throwaway Organ

According to a 2014 study published in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences, about one in five people have multiple spleens, called "accessory spleens." This process is called splenosis, and it occurs once the fragile spleen has been ruptured. NPR describes the process as such: "When a spleen is injured, cells from the organ scatter throughout the abdomen. If the cells are lucky enough to land somewhere with a lot of blood vessels, they grow into tiny extra spleens called splenunculi." We prefer the term accessory spleens. (Don't you just picture a tiny organ with a scarf and a handbag?)

But, let's step back for a minute and explain what a spleen actually does — it isn't completely useless! Spleens are about 4 inches long and sit in the upper-left side of your abdomen. This tiny organ plays a large role in our immune system. According to WebMD, "old red blood cells are recycled in the spleen, and platelets and white blood cells are stored there." The spleen also recognizes certain types of harmful bacteria that cause pneumonia and meningitis, thus giving your immune system time to make antibodies. Without a spleen, 0.5 percent of people develop the deadly blood infection sepsis. That "throwaway" organ seems pretty important now, eh?

They're Harmless and Unique

Now, let's get back to those cute little accessory spleens. Do those have a function? The short answer is nope, probably not. While they're usually not harmful, physicians suggest removing any found accessory spleens while performing a splenectomy. Possible complications include developing necrosis (tissue death) or being misread as another mass of tissue.

This leaves us wondering, can any other organ do this? Dr. David Shatz, a surgical critical care specialist at the University of California-Davis, tells NPR: "As far as we know, the spleen is the only organ that can do this." The takeaway: Your spleen is special and unique.

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Written by Anna Todd January 13, 2017

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