9 Organs You Can Actually Live Without

By | September 6, 2019

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BladderDream Master/shutterstock

Patients with bladder cancer or, on rare occasion neurogenic bladder (when a problem with the nervous system affects bladder control), will need the organ removed—and the prostate and lymph nodes or uterus, ovaries and possibly part of the vagina along with it, says Georges-Pascal Haber, MD, PhD, urologist with Cleveland Clinic. Doctors use a piece of intestine to divert urine that used to be stored in the bladder. The intestine can either form a “neobladder” that pushes urine out through the urethra, an “Indiana pouch” that patients manually drain with a thin tube, or an “ileal conduit urinary diversion” that sends urine into a bag outside the body, says Dr. Haber. Because a neobladder or Indiana pouch can’t sense when it’s full like the bladder does, patients might need to set alarms every three or four hours to remind them to empty it, but life will basically go back to normal. “They start to recognize when the bladder is full through hot flashes or different symptoms,” says Dr. Haber. (Here are 13 more things your bladder wants to tell you.)

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GallbladderDream Master/shutterstock

The liver makes bile to break down fats, and that bile gets stored in the gallbladder in case you eat a particularly fatty meal—but your body doesn’t rely on that stored bile to break down foods. Most people have a steady enough diet that they won’t notice much difference when their gallbladder is gone, says Dr. Heimbach. “They don’t need that extra bile because your body is used to your diet and knows how to digest it,” she says. “It might have been more important in the past, when we didn’t have such a steady diet.” Gallstones are the most common reason the organ would be removed. Learn the superfoods that can keep your gallbladder healthy.

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StomachDream Master/shutterstock

With some weight-loss surgeries—and for aggressive stomach cancers that haven’t spread to other parts of the body—patients might have part or all of their stomach removed. (Learn about the mysterious stomach pain that’s often mistaken for cancer.) Normally, the stomach absorbs vitamins and jump-starts digestion by mixing foods with acids to break them down. Once the stomach is gone, surgeons will connect the esophagus directly with the small intestine. After surgery, patients can still eat solid food, but they’ll only be able to handle smaller quantities and might need to avoid certain foods to avoid “dumping syndrome” when the food passes quickly into the small intestine, says Abdullah Shatnawei, MD, gastroenterologist at Cleveland Clinic. “As food is dumped into the small bowel, sensations of dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating can occur, as well as bloating, satiety, fullness,” he says. They might also need a sudden trip to the bathroom.

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