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FAQ: Therapeutic Apheresis


What is Apheresis?

Blood is made up of a number of different components:

  • Red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body.
  • White blood cells, which help to prevent and fight infections.
  • Platelets, small particles which help the blood to clot.
  • Plasma, the liquid part of the blood in which many proteins and other substances are dissolved.

Some diseases are caused by excessive numbers of these cells and by abnormalities of the proteins and other substances dissolved in the plasma. One way of treating these diseases is to temporarily remove blood from the body and to separate the blood into its components. The unwanted component can be discarded before returning the other components to the body.   Although only a small volume of blood is removed from the body at any one time, large quantities of blood can be processed in this way, leading to a significant reduction in the level of cells or substances responsible for the disease. This process is called apheresis and is accomplished by a special machine called an apheresis machine or a cell separator. Because apheresis can also be used to collect blood cells and plasma from normal blood donors, the term therapeutic and pheresis is used when this process is used to treat a disease.

How much blood do they remove when performing apheresis?

Depending on the type of apheresis machine used, approximately 200 ml or half a pint of blood is removed and circulates through the machine at any given time. Your body has approximately 8-10 pints of blood, depending on your size.

How much blood is removed during the process?

During a procedure, usually your entire blood volume is processed through this machine over a period of time.

How long does a therapeutic pheresis take?

Depending on the type of procedure and your calculated blood volume, this will determine how long a procedure may be. Typically, the average procedure for therapeutic apheresis takes between 2-3 hours.

How often do I have to have this procedure performed?

Frequency of therapeutic pheresis depends on the patient’s disease, symptoms and type of pheresis being performed. Your Dr. and the Blood Center physicians work together deciding the best treatment for you. Some procedures may be performed daily for 5-7 days and then re-evaluated or when blood cell counts drop to a target parameter set by your M.D. Each patient is treated individually according to type of disease and symptoms.

What does Apheresis involve?

Blood is removed from a vein and mixed with a substance to stop the blood clotting while outside the body. In most cases the substance used is citrate. This binds calcium, which is essential for clotting of blood. The blood is then processed by the apheresis machine to separate the various components, allowing the unwanted component to be discarded and the remaining components to be returned to the patient. This requires 1-2 needles to be inserted into the veins, usually one in each arm. In some patients with small veins it may be necessary to insert a special catheter into the large veins under the collarbone or in other parts of the body to allow adequate blood flow for the procedure. If insertion of a special catheter is required, separate information about this procedure will be given and separate consent will be obtained.

How does the service get ordered?

Your M.D. will consult with one of our Blood Center physicians to determine type, frequency of procedure and selected blood parameters to monitor you. A written order from your M.D. is required for the service and is to be directly faxed to the Blood Center at 630-856-7888.

Are there any preparations for this procedure?

We require the below items for your pheresis procedure:

  • Eat within 2-4 hours.
  • Bring a list of your medications and medical history information.
  • On your initial visit, have someone set up to take you home after the procedure.
  • Insurance/picture ID cards.
  • Verify your physicians order has been received.
  • Limit amount of fluids, as procedure can take up to 3 hours to utilize the bathroom until after the procedure.
  • Bring any DVD movies you would like to view during the procedure. This helps with passing the time by and provides a more relaxed setting.

How will I feel at the end of the procedure?

Most patients feel a little tired. This can be due to the initial anxiety of a first time procedure. You can resume your normal activities after 24 hours. If you have any questions or concerns after leaving the Blood Center, an apheresis nurse is always available to answer your questions.

You can contact us by calling:

Monday – Friday:  7 am – 15:30  630-856-7804

After hours/weekends:  630-856-7844   (ask to speak with a pheresis nurse)

What is the difference between therapeutic apheresis and dialysis?

When performing therapeutic apheresis, blood is separated by means of a centrifuge and “blood components” such as plasma, platelets, white cells or red cells are removed or replaced.

When performing dialysis, blood is removed in a similar process like pheresis, however the blood is “filtered” to remove toxins that a weak/diseased kidney can no longer remove. The filtering process is accomplished by a dialyzer.

In summary, a pheresis procedure removes a blood component whereas with dialysis the blood is filtered by an artificial kidney dialyzer. Both are ordered for very different purposes and outcomes.

Where is the Adventist Lab Partners Blood Center located?

We are located on site at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital in the Elmwood Hall building (121 N. Elm St.). Parking is provided right outside the main entrance. Our direct number is 630-856-7804.