What is plasmapheresis?


If you’ve ever considered donating plasma, you might have wondered “how is plasma collected?” Since plasma makes up around 55% of your blood, it’s natural to want to understand the process that collects that percentage of your blood and how it works. 

Plasma is the liquid portion of blood that remains after red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and other cellular components are removed. Plasma makes up more than 55% of your blood⁠—the largest component⁠—and contains water, salts, enzymes, antibodies, and other proteins. 

Plasmapheresis is the process used to collect your blood plasma. While it sounds intense, it’s similar to donating blood, except that the remaining 45% of the non-plasma blood is then returned to your body.

How does plasmapheresis work?

Plasmapheresis begins with a needle or catheter placed into a vein in your arm. Through this needle, whole blood is collected and taken through the plasmapheresis machine where it’s separated into red cells, white cells, platelets, and plasma. The process uses a centrifuge, which works by rotating rapidly thereby separating the plasma from the remaining blood cells. 

Once the machine filters out the plasma from the collected blood, your blood cells and platelets are returned to the vein in saline or albumin to help maintain your circulation. This procedure is entirely safe with a few side effects. These may include discomfort at the needle site, fatigue, low blood pressure, and feeling cold as the blood cells return to your system. 

Plasma center staff monitor the process and ensure the comfort and safety of all donors. When you’re done, you will have a recovery period of around 10-15 minutes to rehydrate and rest. 

A person can donate plasma twice in seven days, and plasma can only be used after you’ve donated two times.

What happens to my plasma?

Donated plasma is frozen within eight hours of being donated to preserve its valuable clotting factors. It can be stored for up to one year and thawed for transfusion to a patient when needed or used to create plasma-derived therapies. 

Plasma itself serves four main functions in the human body:

  1. Maintaining blood pressure. 
  2. Supplying critical proteins for blood clotting and immunity.
  3. Carrying sodium, potassium, and other electrolytes throughout the body.
  4. Maintaining pH balance (which in turn supports cell function).

Many individuals rely on plasma-derived therapies to lead a normal and healthy life. Donated plasma is the only way that they are able to get the protection they need. 

How to prepare for plasma donation

If you’ve never donated plasma before, the first time can be intimidating, but it is a safe and easy process. There are a few ways that you can minimize any potential side effects.

  • Eat a nutritious meal before your donation.
  • Stay hydrated and drink plenty of restorative fluids.
  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before you donate.
  • Bring entertainment to pass the time.
  • Dress comfortably for your donation.

The entire process of donating plasma, from arrival at the center to walking out the door, can take up to two hours the very first time; after that, it takes about 90 minutes.

Ready to donate? Find a plasma center near you!

October 3-7, 2022 is International Plasma Awareness Week (IPAW)! This year marks the 10th year of recognizing plasma donors while raising awareness and increasing knowledge and understanding of how essential plasma is. To participate in IPAW, make an appointment to donate plasma, share information about plasma donation on social media, or share your story with us to be featured as a Plasma Hero.

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