Plasmapheresis is done to exchange plasma in the blood. Plasma is the liquid part of the blood that does not contain cells. Once the plasma is removed, fresh plasma or a plasma substitute is added back to the blood.
Plasmapheresis removes autoantibodies from the blood. Autoantibodies are proteins found in plasma. They mistakenly attack your body’s own tissues. In some cases, this procedure is used to remove toxins or metabolic substances from the blood.
Plasmapheresis is used to treat the following:
Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have plasmapheresis, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:
Plasmapheresis may not be appropriate for people with certain clotting disorders.
Leading up to your procedure:
The day of your treatment:
Anesthesia is not needed for this procedure.
Plasmapheresis is done using an apheresis machine. The machine works in one of two ways. In the first method, the blood cells may be separated from the plasma by spinning the blood at high speeds. The second method uses a special membrane. The membrane has tiny pores that only the plasma can pass through, leaving the blood cells behind.
You will be asked to lie in a bed or sit in a reclining chair. Two needles attached to a catheter tube will be inserted into veins. In some cases, a needle will be inserted into each arm. For others, one needle may be inserted into your arm and the other into the opposite foot. If the veins in your limbs are too small to use, a long-duration catheter will be inserted. It will be placed in a vein in your shoulder or groin area.
Blood will be taken out of your body through one of the catheter tubes. It will then go into the apheresis machine. Once in the machine, the blood cells will be separated from the plasma. The blood cells will be mixed with replacement plasma or a plasma substitute. The new mixed blood will then be returned to your body through the other tube.
You will be asked to rest for a short period of time.
You may experience pain when the needles are inserted. The procedure itself is painless.
When you return home, do the following to help ensure a smooth recovery:
Improvement can occur within days or weeks, depending on the condition being treated. Benefits usually last for up to several months, but may last longer. Over time, autoantibodies may again be produced by your body. Because of this, plasmapheresis is mainly used as a temporary treatment.
After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occurs:
Muscular Dystrophy Association
Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America, Inc.
Canadian Hemophelia Society
Muscular Dystrophy Canada
Facts about plasmapheresis. Muscular Dystrophy Association website. Available at: http://static.mda.org/publications/PDFs/FA-Plasmapheresis.pdf. Accessed April 23, 2007.
Plasmapheresis. CHC Wausau Hospital Medical Library and Patient Education website. Available at:
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Accessed September 27, 2005.
Plasmapheresis. Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America, Inc. website. Available at: http://www.myasthe.... Accessed April 23, 2007.
Plasmapheresis. Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America, Inc. website. Available at: http://www.myasthe.... Accessed September 22, 2005.
Plasmapheresis. Myasthenia Gravis Association of Western Pennsylvania website. Available at: http://mgawpa.org/pages/plasmapheresis.htm. Accessed April 23, 2007.
Last reviewed November 2012 by Igor Puzanov, MD
Last Updated: 11/26/2012