What Is Plasmapheresis?

Plasmapheresis also known as Plasma exchange, is a way to "clean" blood.This is also known as plasma exchange. The process is similar to kidney dialysis. During the treatment, plasma; the liquid part of blood, gets replaced with plasma from a donor or with a plasma substitute.

In this process in the liquid in the blood, or plasma, is separated from the cells. In sick people, plasma can contain antibodies that attack the immune system. A machine removes the affected plasma and replaces it with good plasma, or a plasma substitute. 

Plasmapheresis also can refer to the plasma donation process, where the plasma is removed and cells are returned to the body.

Uses of Plasmapheresis?

Patients who suffer from muscle pain, weakness, and autoimmune disorders such as myasthenia gravis can feel relief in as little as few days. For other conditions, the benefits can take a few weeks to notice.
  • Plasmapheresis can be used to treat a variety of autoimmune disorders, including myasthenia gravis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and Lambert-Eaton. It can also be used to treat multiple sclerosis.
  • Sometimes, it is used in people who have received an organ transplant, to counter the effects of the body's natural rejection process.
  • To treat critically ill patients with infections and other problems.
  • Manage sudden, severe attacks, called relapses or flare-ups witch people could have certain proteins that are attacking their own body. When it take out the plasma, they get rid of those proteins, and symptoms may get better.
The improvements are short term and the process must often be repeated.

How does Plasmapheresis Do?

Plasma exchange can be done in the hospital or at an outpatient center. The process isn't painful, and you won't need anesthesia. Make sure you have a nutritious meal before undergoing treatment or donating. Drink lots of water in the days before your treatment.
  1. During plasmapheresis treatment or donation, patients or donors rest on a cot. A needle or catheter is placed into a vein in the crux of whichever arm has the most robust artery. In some cases, a catheter is placed in the groin or shoulder.
  2. Replacement or returned plasma flows into the body through a second tube that is placed in the arm or foot.
  3. Treatments can last between one and three hours depending on how big your body is and how much plasma gets swapped out. A patient can need as many as five treatments per week. Treatment frequency can vary widely from condition to condition, and also depend on a person's overall health.
  4. According to federal regulations, a person can donate plasma up to twice a week. Donation sessions usually take about 90 minutes.

Side Effects and Risks

Side effects are rare and generally mild. Sometimes there can be a drop in blood pressure and a feeling of faintness. Drink lots of water in the days before your treatment, because that can help prevent these symptoms. Cold sweats or an upset stomach also can occur.

More serious but rarely risks include bleeding, which results from anti-clotting medications. Seizures, abdominal cramps, or tingling in the limbs also have been reported.


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