Why am I at risk of infection if I don’t have a working spleen?

The spleen plays an important part in helping your body to fight bacterial infections. This means that you have an increased risk of serious infection developing quickly if:

  • you’ve had your spleen removed (splenectomy)
  • you were born without a spleen 
  • your spleen doesn’t work properly

What’s the risk of infection?

If you don’t have a working spleen, you can still cope with most infections as the spleen is only one part of the immune system. However, there is a small risk that an infection can become serious very quickly. This risk will be present for the rest of your life.

Young children have a higher risk than adults but the risk is still small.

The risk is also increased if you have a medical condition such as:

  • sickle cell anaemia
  • coeliac disease 
  • a condition that affects your immune system, such as HIV

Preventing infection

There are some steps you can take to reduce the risk of an infection developing. You should also carry or wear some medical ID. For more information, see How can I prevent infection if I don’t have a working spleen?

Read the answers to more questions about infections.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 22/05/2012

Next review due: 21/05/2014