Plasma is the liquid component of your blood. Also known as blood plasma, it makes up about 55% of your blood and has a light yellow color.
When you donate blood, the plasma can be separated out and put into another person’s bloodstream. This is called a plasma transfusion.
Plasma contains important substances, including proteins, electrolytes, and immunoglobulins. It has many functions, such as:
- maintaining blood pressure
- supplying proteins for blood clotting
- defending the body against disease-causing germs
- transporting nutrients and oxygen
- removing wastes
- balancing pH and fluids
Plasma transfusions are a type of blood transfusion. A blood transfusion is when the whole blood or part of the blood is transferred to another person’s bloodstream.
In this article, we’ll discuss plasma transfusions, what they involve, and when people may need them.
People often need plasma transfusions in serious medical situations.
Typically, plasma transfusions are used to stop or prevent bleeding due to blood clotting problems. A plasma transfusion can also help increase blood volume and prevent shock.
A plasma transfusion may be needed for:
- some types of open-heart surgery
- transplant surgery
- severe liver disease or failure
- different types of clotting deficiencies
- trauma or shock
- severe burns
- severe infections
These situations are similar to when people need whole blood transfusions.
Plasma transfusion vs. whole blood transfusion
You may need a plasma transfusion when it’s necessary to increase your blood’s volume or clotting ability. But if you also need red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, a whole blood transfusion may be needed.
Plasma transfusions take place in a hospital or doctor’s office.
The process is similar to whole blood transfusions. The main difference is the substance that’s added to your bloodstream.
Plasma is frozen until a healthcare professional uses it for a transfusion. This plasma has already been separated from whole blood using a machine called a centrifuge. Before the transfusion, the frozen plasma is thawed in a water bath for 20 to 40 minutes.
Plasma transfusion procedure
- A healthcare professional will place a small needle into your vein, likely in your arm or hand. The needle connects to a long tube with a bag of plasma at the end of the tube.
- Once the needle is inserted, the plasma will move through the tube and into your vein and bloodstream.
- The procedure can last between 1 to 4 hours, depending on how much plasma you need.
- Your healthcare team will monitor your vital signs and check for side effects during and after the plasma transfusion.
In general, plasma infusions are safe. There’s a low risk of complications.
If side effects do occur, they might include:
- soreness, bruising, or pain at the needle insertion site
- allergic reactions
- reactions to the plasma
- transfusion-associated circulatory overload
- transfusion-related acute lung injury
Other medical conditions such as cardiopulmonary disease and systemic inflammation might increase the risk of side effects.
Below are common questions relating to plasma transfusions.
Are blood types important for plasma transfusion?
Yes, blood type matters for plasma transfusions. Type AB blood is best because that plasma contains no antibodies. This means it can be given it to a person with any blood type.
Can disease be transmitted in plasma transfusion?
Yes. However, the Food and Drug Administration requires that all plasma be tested after it’s collected, just like whole blood. The plasma is mainly checked for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis A, B, and C.
Is plasma collected during a blood donation?
In a plasma-only donation, whole blood is drawn from a person’s vein and delivered to a centrifuge machine.
The centrifuge then processes the whole blood, separating out the plasma. The other blood components, including red blood cells and platelets, are then returned to the donor with some saline.
With a whole blood donation, the plasma isn’t separated from the other blood components. The donor does not get some of the blood components returned to them after the blood has been drawn from their vein.
Can plasma transfusions help with COVID-19?
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Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood that contains substances like immunoglobulins, proteins, and electrolytes. During a plasma transfusion, plasma from a donor’s blood is put into another person’s bloodstream.
Typically, plasma transfusions are used for serious medical situations and conditions, such as blood clotting disorders, some types of major surgery, burns, and sever liver disease.
Plasma transfusions are generally safe. If side effects do occur, they may include allergic reactions, infections, and other reactions to the donor’s plasma.