NYU Langone doctors may recommend a procedure called plasmapheresis, also known as plasma exchange, as a treatment option for people with severe vasculitis. Blood is composed of several parts—red and white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Plasma is the fluid portion of the blood that holds the cells and platelets.
During this outpatient procedure, a person is attached to a machine that removes some of his or her blood, eliminates the cells in the plasma causing the inflammation, and then returns the “cleaned” plasma and blood back to the body.
Plasma exchange is usually performed daily on an outpatient basis over the course of a few weeks. During this time, your doctor may prescribe steroids and immunosuppressant medications to stop inflammation and prevent further production of the inflammation-causing cells. These medications are often continued for several months after plasma exchange has been completed.
Plasma exchange can help people with some forms of vasculitis to enter a state of remission, when the signs and symptoms of the condition disappear. Because it’s impossible to predict when vasculitis might return, or flare up, people with the condition can expect to follow up with their rheumatologist on a long-term basis.