Also known as therapeutic plasma exchange, plasmapheresis is a blood purification procedure used to treat several autoimmune diseases. It is the removal of plasma from withdrawn blood, with retransfusion of the formed elements into the donor; generally, type-specific fresh frozen plasma or albumin is used to replace the withdrawn plasma. The procedure is used to treat a variety of disorders, including those of the immune system, such as myasthenia gravis, Guillain-Barré syndrome, lupus, and thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura.
An important use of plasmapheresis is in the therapy of autoimmune disorders, where the rapid removal of disease-causing autoantibodies from the circulation is required in addition to other medical therapy. It is important to note that plasma exchange therapy in and of itself is useful to temper the disease process, where simultaneous medical and immunosuppressive therapy is required for long-term management. Plasma exchange offers the quickest short-term answer to removing harmful autoantibodies; however, the production of autoantibodies by the immune system must also be suppressed, usually by the use of medications such as prednisone, cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine, mycophenolate mofetil, rituximab or a mixture of these.