Plasmapheresis Procedure

Treatment and Complications

A plasmapheresis procedure is an outpatient treatment; the average patient will have six to 10 treatments over a period from two to 10 weeks, and each procedure takes several hours [source: Muscular Dystrophy Association]. While a patient might find the procedure uncomfortable, it is usually not painful. Improvement sometimes can be seen within a few days, particularly if the procedure is used as a treatment for myasthenia gravis, a disease that weakens the body's muscles; however, sometimes it takes weeks to see improvement [source: Muscular Dystrophy Association].

When undergoing plasmapheresis procedure, a patient sits in reclining position in bed or chair. A thin tube is placed in a large vein in the arm, and another small tube is placed in the other hand or foot. Blood goes out one tube and is returned in the other. The blood outside of the body is much less than what the average person would donate to a blood bank in one sitting. Autoimmune disease drugs are administered as a part of the patient's regular medication routine in lower doses than if the patient was not undergoing plasmapheresis.

Although plasmapheresis procedures are safe, like any other medical treatment, complications can occur. If a patient's blood pressure drops, medical technicians will lower the patient's head, lift his or her legs and administer intravenous fluid. Symptoms of a drop in blood pressure include faintness, blurred vision, sweating, coldness, dizziness and cramps in the abdomen.

A patient can also bleed excessively after the procedure as a result of receiving medications to keep blood from clotting. Since blood loss can lead to seizures or irregular heartbeat, this complication should be treated immediately.

If a patient is allergic to solutions or equipment used in the procedure, medical technicians will stop the treatment and give the patient intravenous medication. Symptoms of allergic reactionsinclude itching, wheezing and the development of a rash.

Related Articles


  • Guillain-Barré Syndrome. What is Plasmapheresis?" (Sept. 28, 2011).
  • Johns Hopkins Medicine. "Blood Type Incompatible Program." (Sept. 28, 2011).
  • Muscular Dystrophy Association. "Facts About Plasmapheresis." (Sept. 28, 2011).
  • De la Rocha, Kelly. "Plasmapheresis." Mississippi Baptist Health Systems. (Sept. 28, 2011).
  • Myasthenia Graves Foundation of America. "Plasmapheresis." (Sept. 28, 2011)
  • National Institutes of Health. Myasthenia Gravis Fact Sheet. (Oct. 11, 2011).

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