NYU Langone doctors may recommend a procedure called plasma exchange to treat people with more severe symptoms of myasthenia gravis. Blood is composed of red and white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood. People who undergo this outpatient procedure are connected intravenously to a machine that withdraws blood, eliminates the antibodies in the plasma that are causing the autoimmune attack, and then returns the “cleaned” plasma and other blood components back to the body.
Plasma exchange is usually performed every other day on an outpatient basis for a few weeks. During this time, your doctor may prescribe steroids and immunosuppressant medications to prevent further production of antibodies. These medications are often continued for several months after plasma exchange has been completed.
Plasma exchange can offer a quick improvement in muscle strength—usually within a few days of treatment—but its effects do not last more than a few months. Plasma exchange may be repeated, but other medications should control most symptoms, eliminating the need for multiple courses of plasmapheresis.