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Learning About Apheresis

What is apheresis?

Apheresis (say "af-uh-REE-sus") is the process of withdrawing blood, filtering something out of the blood, and then putting the filtered blood back into the body. It has different names depending on what is being filtered from the blood. Some of these names include plasmapheresis (when plasma is removed from the blood) and therapeutic cytapheresis (when abnormal cells are removed from the blood).

It may be used to treat certain blood disorders, cancers, and other diseases. It also may be used to remove harmful things from the blood, such as toxins or extra iron.

How is apheresis done?

Blood is taken by inserting an intravenous (I.V.) needle into a vein. The blood is processed in a machine. Then the blood goes back into the body through another I.V. If it's not possible to use an I.V., a central vascular access device may be used instead. It's a thin, flexible tube that goes into a large vein in the neck or chest.

Your doctor may have you use the toilet first. After you're attached to the machine, you can't leave it until the procedure is finished.

You may need only one treatment. Or you may need many treatments over weeks or months. It depends on what type of apheresis is used and what is being treated.

How long does apheresis take?

The treatment takes about 2 to 5 hours, depending on which type of apheresis you get.

What are the risks?

Some people have side effects from apheresis. These may include an allergic reaction, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, or low blood pressure. You may feel numbness, tingling, and itching. Most side effects will stop when the treatment ends. You may feel tired for a few days.

You may get calcium supplements during the procedure to help with numbness or tingling.

If you need a central vascular access device, your doctor will talk to you about the risks. There is a low risk of things such as bleeding, infection, lung puncture, and an air bubble blocking a blood vessel (air embolism).

What can you expect after apheresis?

Your care team will watch you closely for signs of any side effects.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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