What is pheresis?

Apheresis is more commonly called apheresis, and may be known by several other names. It is a procedure in medicine that involves taking blood, separating it into certain elements, and then putting most of it back into the body. This could be medically indicated for a variety of reasons. Pheresis is sometimes used to collect some components of a donor's blood, and at other times it is used to temporarily or permanently remove some aspect of a sick person's blood as a treatment.

Blood has many components, and advances in science have found ways to break down these components when they are eliminated from the body. Therefore, it is possible to simply extract platelets from the blood or to extract blood plasma or blood liquid. Alternatively, the white blood cells can be separated from the blood. Whether the intent of pheresis is to donate a single aspect of the blood or to remove it, the procedure usually involves removing some of the whole blood and then returning some or most of it to the body.

The name depheresis can be more specific depending on the type of blood product removed. The removal of plasma on a voluntary basis or for medical necessity is called plasmapheresis. The separation of leukocytes, which are a type of white blood cell, is known as leukapheresis, and the removal of platelets is typically called plateletpheresis.

There can be numerous reasons why the collection and separation of blood products is considered as a treatment and the element of blood collection can vary depending on the aspect of the blood that is most involved in the disease. Some conditions that might require a pheresis in different ways include familial extremely high cholesterol, a variety of autoimmune diseases that cause abnormal white blood cell counts, and conditions that cause very high platelet counts such as thrombocytopenia.

Other times, sick people benefit from donations of a single blood product. Platelets that another person donates through pheresis can be used to help fight platelet loss caused by cancer treatment. Blood plasma is sometimes preferred over whole blood during some types of surgery, and the list is quite extensive.

There is a need in many communities for pheresis donors. Apheresis procedures can take a bit longer than just donating blood, and can be done at different places than blood donor centers, although this is not always the case. People who qualify to donate are generally subject to the same scrutiny as whole blood donors, and will undergo an evaluation to determine any health conditions or medications that might disqualify them from donating. Many people never know about pheresis until family members are sick. In these cases, healthy members of a family might be called upon to donate to help a sick relative or understand the need for the procedure as a form of medical treatment.

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