What is the spleen?
Where is the spleen found?
What does the spleen do?
Blood also enters red pulp. Red pulp has three main functions.
- It removes old and damaged red blood cells. Red blood cells have a lifespan of about 120 days. After this time they stop carrying oxygen effectively. Special cells called macrophages break down these old red blood cells. Haemoglobin (a chemical which carries oxygen) found within the cells is also broken down and then recycled.
- Red pulp also stores up to one third of the body's supply of platelets. Platelets are fragments of cells that circulate in the bloodstream that help to stop bleeding when we cut ourselves. These extra stored platelets can be released from the spleen if severe bleeding occurs.
- In foetuses (unborn babies) red pulp can also act like bone marrow, producing new red blood cells. Usually this stops after birth, but may start again in some people with certain diseases.
However, people who have had their spleen removed are more likely to get infections and may be put on long-term antibiotics to prevent this.