What Is an Apheresis Catheter?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 21 February 2020
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An apheresis catheter provides access to a major blood vessel for procedures where blood is extracted and processed to remove some products while returning the rest to the body. People may undergo apheresis so they can donate plasma and other blood products, or as part of medical treatment. Several catheter options are available, depending on circumstances, and can be installed by a nurse, doctor, or technician. Proper placement is important to reduce the risk of injury.

For apheresis donation and other one-time procedures, a needle is usually used instead of a catheter. Patients who will need multiple procedures, like collections of stem cells for transplant or removal of blood products as part of ongoing treatment, need a permanent apheresis catheter. The device is put in place with the assistance of anesthesia to keep the patient comfortable, and must be maintained carefully to prevent infection.

The catheter consists of a tube inserted underneath the skin to access the desired blood vessel, and capped with one or more access points known as lumens. Three lumens are common to provide points for collecting blood, returning it, and injecting medications. They need to be regularly flushed to prevent clotting and keep the inside of the apheresis catheter clean. In addition, the caps require periodic changing, as does the bandage placed over the catheter to protect the patient.


While wearing an apheresis catheter, patients can engage in most regular activities. They may experience some pain and soreness on the first few days that can usually be managed with over the counter pain medications. Physical activity like running, doing yoga, or riding a bike is allowed while wearing the device as long as it isn’t contraindicated for other reasons. Submersion in pools and hot tubs can create the risk of infection and is not recommended. After getting sweaty or showering, it is advisable to clean the apheresis catheter.

Infection is a potential risk of an apheresis catheter and it is important to limit risks as well as monitoring the device at all times. Patients who notice heat, swelling, and tenderness should report these symptoms. Likewise, if they have trouble flushing the catheter with the recommended solution, as this may indicate that there is a block caused by a clot or other obstruction. Sharp pain and irritation may be signs that the device has migrated. A medical evaluation can determine if there is a problem and may provide information on how to approach the issue.


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