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Red Blood Cell Exchange Apheresis

Red blood cell exchange apheresis, also known as therapeutic erythrocytapheresis, is a nonsurgical therapy that removes and replaces a patient's red blood cells.

Red blood cell exchange apheresis involves removing blood through a needle or catheter and circulating it through a machine where the blood is separated into red cells, white cells, platelets and plasma. The red cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen to all parts of the body, are discarded and replaced with red blood cells provided by a blood donor. The donor red blood cells circulate back to the patient with the other blood components (white cells, platelets and plasma) through a return needle.

What does red blood cell exchange apheresis treat?

Red blood cells that are abnormal in shape, size or function, or that are too numerous, can deprive bodily tissues of oxygen or prevent oxygen from reaching the tissues. Lack of oxygen causes damage to cells and organs and may restult in pain, anemia, stroke or kidney failure. At UC San Diego Health, red blood cell exchange apheresis is most commonly used to treat:

Potential side effects

Although the blood cell separator removes less than 8 oz (237 ml) of blood at any one time, you may feel dizzy or lightheaded. A nurse will check on you regularly during treatment and a physician will be onsite.  

Video: Patient Benefits from Red Cell Exchange Apheresis


Rona Wiggins, a patient at UC San Diego Health who has sickle cell disease, has been using red cell exchange apheresis to manage her symptoms for years.

Appointments & Referrals


La Jolla

All UC San Diego Health hospitals provide inpatient apheresis.

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