Plasmapheresis (plasma exchange) is a type of treatment for autoimmune diseases such as myasthenia gravis. During the treatment, the plasma compartment of the blood is exchanged with substitute plasma to ensure that the immune system does not attack the body’s own tissues.
How plasmapheresis helps myasthenia gravis patients
Myasthenia gravis is a rare chronic disease caused by patients’ own antibodies attacking healthy tissues in the body. Plasmapheresis helps relieve the symptoms of the disease by filtering out the antibodies from the plasma. The benefits of plasma exchange are rapid but temporary. Therefore, it is more commonly used for patients with severe acute symptoms.
How plasmapheresis is performed
Plasmapheresis is a painless procedure that takes one to three hours to complete. The patient is connected to a tube system that draws blood from one arm, passes it through a device to filter out the hostile antibodies, adds substitute plasma to the remaining part of the blood, and returns the blood to the patient’s body through the other arm.
Doctors plan this procedure at different intervals based on each patient’s needs. Some patients may require plasma exchange every day while others receive the treatment once a month. Patients start feeling their symptoms disappearing after three to five rounds of therapy. For a typical daily or semi-weekly treatment plan, the benefits of plasmapheresis may last up to two months.
Side effects of plasmapheresis
Plasmapheresis does not have any substantial side effects. It is a painless procedure but may involve some level of discomfort. The most common side effect is low blood pressure, which can cause drowsiness, nausea, coldness, sweating, abdominal cramps, or blurred vision for a brief period. Some patients may observe bruising or swelling around the needle puncture sites.
Patients are given an anti-clotting agent, or blood thinner, during the procedure. This may cause tingling or numbness in the fingers, bleeding, or allergic reactions. Patients should always update their doctors on how they are feeling during the procedure.
Plasma exchange therapy filters out all of the antibodies in the plasma. It does not distinguish between the hostile antibodies and the normal ones. This may cause an extreme suppression of the immune system and a physician may choose to supply the patient with antibodies after each procedure.
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