Plasma exchange vs plasmapheresis? They are often used interchangeably, but they are different. To understand each on a deeper level, you must start by learning more about your blood and apheresis, the treatment under which both techniques fall.
Blood consists of four parts: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. One or more of these blood parts can be damaged at any time. Red blood cells help take oxygen to your organs and remove carbon dioxide from the body. White blood cells aid the body’s immune system in fighting diseases. They consume and destroy bacteria that cause infections. White blood cells also create antibodies that attach to bacteria and flush them out of your system.
Platelets aid the body by causing bleeding to stop or prevent bleeding from occurring. When you get injured and begin bleeding, your body sends a message to platelets. It tells them to find the injury and use a clotting process to stop the bleeding.
The liquid you see when you look at blood is due to platelets. Suppose plasma and blood cells were on a train traveling throughout the country. Platelets represent the train. It is the liquid that makes up more than half of all your blood. It has some essential duties. It distributes nutrients, flushes out toxins, prevents infection, and helps recover injuries.
If any of these four parts experience damages, you can expect drastic changes in your health. Treating the four parts involves a process called apheresis.
What is Apheresis?
Apheresis involves removing damaged or infected parts of your blood from your body and replacing them with clean, healthy, or treated blood.
You may be thinking this sounds a lot like dialysis. Yes, they are similar. The difference is that dialysis removes waste and excess fluid from the blood, while apheresis removes bacteria and infections.
Apheresis replaces the blood of a person with an infection or disease. Dialysis is used when a person’s kidneys stop working. Both methods should be done at clinics by specialists with advanced equipment.
Plasmapheresis and plasma exchange are two types of apheresis.
What is Plasmapheresis?
Plasmapheresis involves removing the damaged plasma from your blood using either centrifugation or filtration. Centrifugation is when your doctor uses a centrifuge machine to separate the components of your blood. Filtration uses a sieve or filtering material that allows waste or bacteria to pass through, but not the good parts of your blood.
Out of the two, centrifugation is quicker and more effective. The American Society for Apheresis (ASFA) considers plasmapheresis a “front-line treatment” for neurological conditions such as neuroborreliosis associated with Lyme disease.
Benefits of Plasmapheresis
You will notice a reduction in negative symptoms. For some, the reduction will be astounding. For others, it may take additional plasmapheresis treatments before the full effects are felt. Other benefits include the following:
- Lowers severity of symptoms and possible elimination
- Removes harmful substances from the body
- Prevents the body from producing harmful antibodies
- Treats coinfections that often appear with tick-borne illnesses
Potential Risks of Plasmapheresis
With all procedures, there are potential risks, many of which the right specialist can monitor and resolve immediately. Risks may include the following:
- Low blood pressure
- Blurred vision
- Cold hands and feet during the procedure
- Citrate toxicity
- Although rare, it can reduce immune system functioning temporarily
None of the plasmapheresis risks are life-threatening.
What is Plasma Exchange?
If your doctor recommends getting rid of infected plasma completely, they will use the plasma exchange process. They remove the plasma that has harmful substances and replaces it with healthy, donated blood. They do not try to clean your plasma and return it to the body.
Blood is drawn from a vein in your arm. It flows into a blood cell separator. Replacement blood is administered intravenously on the opposite arm.
The ASFA recommends plasma exchange as a second-line treatment for many disorders but states it is up to your specialist to decide since all individuals have varying symptoms.
Benefits of Plasma Exchange
There are just as many benefits of plasma exchange as there are for plasmapheresis, including the following:
- The whole process takes a few hours or less.
- The procedure helps those who did not respond to corticosteroids, but after plasma exchange, steroids became significantly more effective.
- It rids your body of toxins.
- It treats coinfections that can appear with Lyme disease.
Potential Side Effects of Plasma Exchange
Some people will not experience any side effects. Those that do may notice one or more of the following:
- Numbness or tingling
- Blood pressure fluctuations
- Rarely is an allergic reaction represented by:
- Shortness of breath
- Fever and chills
Plasma Exchange and Plasmapheresis for Various Diseases
Lyme disease is not the only disease in which plasma exchange and plasmapheresis are beneficial. The procedures are effective in neurological, renal, hematology, metabolic, and immunological categories. Of these, examples include the following:
- Myasthenia gravis, or when the nerves and muscles are no longer communicating correctly.
- Acute Guillain-Barre Syndrome, or when the immune system attacks your nerves.
- PANDAS or an autoimmune disorder in children with strep throat.
- Wilson’s disease or copper buildup in the organs.
- Paraproteinemia or an excessive amount of paraproteins in the blood.
- Goodpasture’s syndrome or when your body makes antibodies that attach to your lungs and kidneys.
These are just a few examples of many. Whether you have Lyme or another disease, you should contact an infectious diseases specialist to learn the many treatment options to help you feel better.
There are important factors to consider when searching for the right doctor that has nothing to do with your disease. They are:
- Extend your search beyond the United States and Canada to areas like Mexico, where some of the most notable doctors practice.
- Make your health a priority and avoid talking yourself out of going to a great specialist.
- Have hope and faith that your symptoms can be treated.
Give us a call today for more information on these treatments and more.