Background: Therapeutic apheresis was found to be reasonably safe in prior studies using instruments that are now largely obsolete. The incidence of adverse effects with current instruments and techniques has not been assessed in a large multicenter study.
Study design and methods: A survey was conducted in 1995 using a uniform questionnaire that asked about 32 specific events but excluded transient paresthesia and mild vasovagal events. Eighteen centers returned 3429 responses concerning 125 to 500 therapeutic apheresis procedures per center.
Results: Two hundred forty-two adverse events were reported in 163 procedures (4.75% of all procedures; 6.87% of first-time procedures and 4.28% of repeat procedures). The numbers (incidence) of selected specific events were transfusion reaction, 56 (51 in plasma exchange [PE] with plasma replacement) (1.6%); citrate-related nausea and/or vomiting, 41 (1.2%); systolic blood pressure <80 mmHg, 34 (1.0%); vasovagal nausea and/or vomiting, 17 (0.5%); pallor and/or diaphoresis, 16 (0.5%); pulse >120, 14 (0.4%); respiratory distress, 9 (0.3%); tetany or seizure, 9 (0.2%); and chills or rigors, 6 (0.2%). Rates for other specific events were < or =0.1 percent. Vasovagal phenomena were more frequent in procedures done in neurologic patients than in those done in hematology or oncology patients (p = 0.011) or renal or rheumatic patients (p = 0.038). Procedure-specific rates were red cell exchange, 8 (10.26%) of 78; PE (plasma), 89 (7.81 %) of 1140; PE (no plasma), 42 (3.35%) of 1255; leukapheresis, 4 (5.71%) of 70; plateletpheresis, 0 of 18; and autologous peripheral blood progenitor cell collection, 11 (1.66%) of 664. Three deaths were reported; all were attributed to primary disease.
Conclusion: Therapeutic apheresis procedures are relatively safe, with a 4.75-percent overall incidence of mostly reversible adverse effects. Among the most commonly performed procedures, the risk is higher for blood component exchanges, especially if allogeneic red cell or plasma transfusion occurs, and lower for peripheral blood progenitor cell collection.