When you see the words “extracorporeal photopheresis,” you probably know these are medical terms. Not many industries use hard-to-pronounce words to name a simple process. It helps to break it down first and analyze each part.
Extracorporeal refers to something outside of the body. In medicine, it refers to a medical procedure performed outside the body. Photopheresis is a treatment performed on someone’s blood. The two terms together, extracorporeal photopheresis, lets you know that a procedure will be performed on your blood outside your body.
Who Performs Extracorporeal Photopheresis?
Doctors who specialize in blood disorders perform extracorporeal photopheresis. You may immediately think of hematologists or hematopathologists, and you are correct. However, specialists focusing on rare and infectious diseases also perform these procedures.
Infectious disease specialists diagnose and treat rare diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens. They are experts in figuring out the source of your illness and, for some, why their bodies cannot get rid of the pathogen. They know which antibiotics should be the first line of treatment, and they can also analyze blood under a microscope, discover reasons for unexplained symptoms, and interpret the results of lab tests.
What Are Infectious Diseases That Affect Your Blood?
For diseases to infect your blood, they must get into your bloodstream via transmission from another source. For example, Lyme disease is transmitted from a deer tick into your bloodstream. They do this by first attaching to your body. They roam your body for the perfect place to “bite” you. A tick bite is a tick embedding itself under your skin so it can reach your bloodstream to feed on your blood.
While feeding, the tick transmits the bacteria it carries into your bloodstream. With Lyme disease, the bacteria is Borrelia burgdorferi. Once in your bloodstream, bacteria begin to reproduce, multiply, and travel to other spots in your body. Infectious diseases hinder the body’s immune system from working correctly, so the diseases become chronic.
Other than Lyme disease, bloodstream infections include:
- Hepatitis C
- Babesiosis (common coinfection of Lyme disease)
- West Nile Virus
Infectious diseases can produce painful symptoms due to the inflammatory response from the immune system. Treatment must include calming the immune response. Extracorporeal photopheresis helps achieve this goal.
What is the Process of Extracorporeal Photopheresis?
When your body struggles to get rid of bacteria in your blood, you have a problem you’re your white blood cells. They must be changed to better support your immune system. Extracorporeal photopheresis is a non-invasive procedure that uses light to change your white blood cells so they can trigger a healthy immune response.
Receiving extracorporeal photopheresis is a simple process and usually only takes a few hours. The process involves:
- A pic line is put in your arm or chest vein.
- Blood is drawn from your body through the line and into a machine that separates white blood cells from all the other parts of your blood.
- 8-Methoxypsoralen, a safe substance, is added to your blood in the machine. It charges under the ultraviolet light in the device. It can be activated to fight pathogens or deactivated to prevent an immune response in healthy cells. Your doctor determines which one is needed in your treatment.
- The mixture is exposed to ultraviolet light, changing the white blood cells.
- The changed white blood cells are sent back into your bloodstream.
What Are the Benefits of Extracorporeal Photopheresis?
The most significant benefit of extracorporeal photopheresis is feeling better due to reduced painful symptoms. Additional benefits include the following:
- It has been used in treating various diseases for several decades. It’s not a new, untested procedure, but it has years of positive results.
- Allows doctors to reduce or eliminate corticosteroids or immunosuppressants in a patient’s treatment plan.
- Side effects are minimal and, in most, nonexistent.
- The procedure is simple and does not require surgery.
- It can be used to treat multiple diseases, including coinfections.
- It can strengthen or weaken your immune response, whichever is needed to treat your infection.
- It can ease the symptoms of Lyme disease that tend to linger for weeks or months after antibiotic treatments.
- The outpatient procedure allows you to go home after it is done.
Depending on your circumstances, you may notice the positive effects of extracorporeal photopheresis effects soon after your first treatment.
What Are the Potential Side Effects of Extracorporeal Photopheresis?
Side effects, if any, are harmless and usually subside soon after the treatment. Common side effects include feeling a burning or stinging sensation during the treatment process that goes away when the procedure ends. You may also feel a bump where the pic line was inserted.
Another side effect is sensitivity to light. Some report that their skin and eyes become sensitive to the sun. This side effect can last several weeks, but there are numerous ways to minimize them, like wearing sunglasses outdoors.
How Do I Find the Right Specialist?
Finding the right doctor makes a big difference. You want to find a leader in the field who has performed many extracorporeal photopheresis procedures. You deserve treatment from a specialist with the proper credentials. Below are the characteristics you should look for when searching for a specialist.
- Member of an international professional association or society, like the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society.
- They collaborate with medical teams to ensure you are adequately treated after the procedure.
- They have a medical degree and residency from reputable, accredited institutions.
- They spend time with you online or in person, answering all your questions.
When searching for a specialist, think outside the United States and Canada. Remember, you are looking for the best specialist. If you find one out of this country, like our clinic, Lyme Mexico, don’t automatically think you can’t travel or don’t have enough money. You can, and you do.
Plus, you will likely spend more money and time jumping from one doctor to another than you would have spent seeing a doctor outside the country.
Make the call and schedule a consultation to discuss all your possible options.