Plasmapheresis is the process healthcare providers use to obtain plasma from blood. Plasma exchange is when providers use plasmapheresis to replace plasma. The process involves using a machine to separate plasma from blood and then returning the blood to the person receiving treatment.
Plasma is one of four elements that make up blood, along with red and white blood cells and platelets. Plasma is mostly water containing electrolytes (dissolved salts) and proteins. Some proteins in plasma protect us from foreign substances like cancer cells, viruses, fungi and bacteria. Other proteins help control bleeding.
Plasmapheresis is the process healthcare providers use to obtain plasma from blood. Many times, providers do plasmapheresis to obtain donor plasma — plasma from healthy people that providers use when treating certain medical conditions.
Plasma exchange is when providers use plasmapheresis to replace someone’s plasma. They do that by taking blood and using a machine to separate the plasma from blood. Then, they replace the plasma with fluid, add the replacement fluid to the blood and return the blood to the person receiving treatment.
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Healthcare providers use this process to treat a variety of blood disorders, neurologic disorders and blood cancers. They may use plasma exchange as a first-line or initial treatment or by combining it with other treatments. Providers may also use plasma exchange to support recovery from organ transplants.
Providers may use plasma exchange to remove harmful antibodies from people’s plasma. Those disorders include:
Providers treat the following blood disorders with plasma exchange:
If you’re receiving plasma exchange, your healthcare provider may recommend you:
In plasmapheresis, healthcare providers obtain blood and use a machine to separate red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma to use each part of your donated blood to treat certain medical conditions.
Plasma exchange takes a few more steps:
A plasma exchange may take several hours.
No, it’s not painful, but you may have some discomfort when healthcare providers place intravenous lines in your arms. Some people also have the following symptoms:
Most people feel very tired after the procedure. Plasma is a source of hydration for your body. Your healthcare provider may recommend you drink more liquids than usual after your treatment.
Plasma exchange is a safe and effective way to treat several neurological conditions and blood disorders, as well as ease symptoms. It also helps people who have organ transplants.
Plasma exchange is a very safe procedure, but some people have the following complications during or after treatment:
Most people recover from plasma exchange treatment within a few hours.
That depends on why you’re having plasma exchange. For example, people who have myasthenia gravis may have plasma exchange to ease symptoms like weakness. They may have several treatments over a few weeks and feel stronger for a few months before needing additional treatments.
Dialysis and plasmapheresis and plasma exchange operate on the same principle: Filtering harmful substances from your blood. People have dialysis because their kidneys aren’t able to remove waste from their blood. That waste builds up in their bloodstream. In dialysis, providers use a machine to remove blood from your body, cleanse the blood and return it to you.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Healthcare providers have used plasmapheresis and plasma exchange for decades. The medical practice of removing abnormal blood, including plasma, dates back centuries. Plasma exchange is part of the overall treatment for conditions including blood disorders, blood cancers and neurological diseases. Plasma exchange doesn’t cure these conditions. It does, though, ease symptoms that may affect your quality of life. If you have a condition that may be helped by plasma exchange, ask your healthcare provider for more information.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/20/2022.
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