What is Apheresis?

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  • Written By: Garry Crystal
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 24 April 2020
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Apheresis is a medical procedure that involves a blood donor receiving their blood back once some component has been extracted. The other blood components, including red blood cells, are still intact. While any part of the blood can be separated out, the most common forms of apheresis are plasmapheresis, plateletpheresis, and leukapheresis. Apheresis is usually performed either because one part of a patient's blood is causing health problems or because a donor wishes to donate one needed blood component.

When a person's blood has a high platelet count, for example, it can lead to an increase in the risk of blood clots. Plateletpheresis can be performed to remove some of the platelets and lower this risk. Other people don't have enough platelets in their blood, and those donated from others through apheresis can be transfused in to help the blood clot properly.

Almost anyone over 18 years of age can donate blood. A donor must weigh at least 110 pounds (50 kg) and must have donated blood in the last two years. The previous blood donation must have had a good blood flow, and the donor must have had no adverse reactions. Only people with certain blood types can donate specific blood components; people donating plasma, for example, must be type A, B, or AB, Rh positive or negative.

The procedure for apheresis donation is much the same as a normal blood donation. The blood will be extracted from the arm through a sterile, disposable kit that is housed in a special machine. The machine is called a cell-separator. The cell-separator removes the required components from the blood by using another machine called a centrifuge. The remaining blood is returned to the donor using the same needle.

During the procedure, citrate is added to the blood to prevent the blood from clotting while it is outside of the body. A small amount of the citrate returns to the donor. This may cause a sensation of coldness and tingling around the mouth area during the donation, but this usually quickly subsides. The citrate is broken down very quickly once it enters the bloodstream.

Apheresis is often performed when the target constituents in a patient's blood cause severe symptoms of disease, such as bleeding problems, or diseases such as cancer. This procedure has to be performed quite often. As it is an invasive procedure, it is only performed if all other means of controlling the disease have failed. It is also performed if the symptoms of a disease are so severe that there is a risk of complications or suffering while waiting for the medication to work.

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Post 7

Apheresis is also used to treat patients with a high cholesterol count that does not respond to conventiona statins, or the patient is allergic to them. For some folks, like myself, this is the treatment that can take an abnormal cholesterol count (400-500) and bring it to 7 after a treatment! It takes about four or five hours (depending on the size of your veins) and in some cases (like mine) will continue for the rest of your life.

Post 6

@anon176129: Are you a medical professional? I'm very interested in your comment about PE's because my 22 year old daughter had multiple ones and was donating twice a week for six months. Can you tell me how you know this?

Post 5

turquoise: If you are not adequately hydrated during apheresis the result can be deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary emboli which can be fatal.

If you opt for apheresis, make sure that they give you every drop of fluid in the IV bag and drink plenty of water before hand. Most blood bank technicians will not warn you about this. Personally, I would recommend that you opt for the traditional method rather than apheresis.

Post 4

@turquoise-- I have donated before. I did not feel dizzy or lightheaded but I know some other people did. You should eat something before, so that your blood pressure and blood sugar don't fall while giving blood. The nurse told me to drink lots of water that day after donation.

Post 3

I might give a donation of plasma next month at my campus. Do you know how long the whole process takes?

And will there be any side effects? I have given blood before and I was fine during and after. But it sounds like apheresis is a little more complicated. Will I feel dizzy or anything?

Post 2

I didn't know that plasmapheresis is used for varying health issues. Did you know that if someone doesn't respond to the initial treatment given for mushroom poisoning, they might be required to undergo plasmapheresis?!

It's apparently a treatment option for myeloma as well.

Post 1

What can you tell me about the about deep vein thrombosis as a result of blood volume depletion during whole blood apheresis?

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