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What is Pheresis?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 25, 2024
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Pheresis is more commonly called apheresis, and it may be known by several other names. It is a procedure in medicine that involves drawing blood, separating it into certain elements and then replacing 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 blood from a donor, and at other times it is employed to either temporarily or permanently remove some aspect of blood from an ill person as a treatment.

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

The name may get more specific depending on type of blood product removed. Removal of plasma voluntarily or due to medical need is called plasmapheresis. Separation of leukocytes, which are a type of white blood cell, is referred to as leukopheresis, and platelet removal is typically named plateletpheresis.

There might be numerous reasons why removal and separation of blood products is considered as a treatment and the element of blood removed may vary based on what aspect of the blood is most involved in the disease. Some conditions that could call for pheresis of different forms included extremely high family inherited cholesterol, a variety of autoimmune diseases that result in abnormally high white blood cell counts, and conditions that result in very high platelet counts like thrombocytopenia.

Other times ill people benefit from donations of a single blood product. Platelets that are donated through pheresis by someone else may be used to help fight platelet loss caused by cancer treatment. Blood plasma is sometimes preferred to whole blood during some types of surgeries, and the list is fairly extensive.

There is need in many communities for pheresis donors. Apheresis procedures may take slightly longer than simple blood donation, and they may be done at different locations than blood donor centers, though this is not always the case. People who qualify to donate are usually subject to the same scrutiny as donors of any whole blood, and they will go through a screening to rule health conditions or medications that might disqualify them from donation. Many people do not ever know about this procedure until family members are ill. In these cases, healthy members of a family might be called upon to make donations to help an ailing relative or to understand the necessity of the procedure as a form of medical treatment.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon87496 — On May 30, 2010

thrombocytopenia = Low platelet count

By anon87467 — On May 30, 2010

"Apheresis procedures may take slightly longer than simple blood donation..."?

I am a regular platelet donor via apheresis at the Red Cross; I have also donated whole blood.

The latter, including pre-donation prep, takes about an hour; the former takes about two and half hours. Saying it takes 'slightly' longer than whole blood donations is an under exaggeration.

By anon87425 — On May 30, 2010

Thrombocytopenia refers to a deficient number of platelets. Thrombocytosis refers to an increase in the number of platelets. It is incorrectly used in the third paragraph.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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