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What Is Leukapheresis?

A diagram of the effects of leukemia. Leukapheresis is sometimes used on people with leukemia.
Leukapheresis involves separating blood components with a centrifuge.
A diagram showing different types of leukocytes, or white blood cells. Leukapheresis typically involves the removal of leukocytes from the blood.
During leukapheresis, red blood cells are recirculated back into the patient's body.
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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 August 2014
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The quick definition of leukapheresis is the removal of blood from the body in order to collect a specific type of blood cell. Following the removal of the blood, the remaining blood is sent back into the body for recirculation. It is typically seen with white blood cell or leukocyte removal, specifically for people who are suffering from various forms of leukemia or cancer.

Through the process of leukapheresis, blood is drawn from one arm with the help of a catheter that is placed in one of the veins. The blood is then removed from the arm and placed into a centrifuge. The centrifuge spins the blood and separates it into various components according to the materials’ weight and density. Consequently, the blood can be separated into red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Typically, the white blood cells are removed and the rest of the cells and the blood plasma are returned to the body through another catheter or a needle in the opposite arm

Leukapheresis can last anywhere from two to four hours. The benefit of the process is that large quantities of blood can be removed from the body during a single procedure; however, the person is not affected because the red blood cells and blood plasma are re-circulated. The white blood cells are then used for further procedures and to help treat a wide range of medical conditions.

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In most cases, an anticoagulant is added to the blood. Doctors do not want the blood to coagulate or form blood clots and adding the coagulant will help prevent that process from occurring. There may be a few side effects from the anticoagulant. They include a tingling sensation around the mouth, a chilling sensation through the body, and chest vibrations. Usually a calcium solution will prevent these side effects from occurring.

Many people may wonder what they should expect after a leukapheresis treatment. In general, most people feel fatigued, so activity should be limited for approximately 12 to 24 hours; specifically avoid heavy lifting or exercise. Because a patient’s blood platelet count is decreased through leukapheresis, any activities which risk bleeding or bruising on the patient’s body should be avoided. In addition, consuming plenty of liquids will help the body bounce back quickly. If dizziness occurs, it is important to prop the patient’s feet above her head until the dizziness subsides.

As with any medical procedure, anyone undergoing leukapheresis should consult her doctor with any questions or concerns. Although it is not a risky procedure, it is important that the patient feel at ease and understand the procedure. In addition, after the treatment is completed, any questions should be immediately directed towards the treating physician.

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