What is plasma?
Plasma is the largest portion of blood. It contains water, salt, enzymes and proteins. It is clear to pale yellow in color. Some of the proteins that make up plasma are clotting factors and some are antibodies. Clotting factors help to seal blood vessels and stop bleeding after injury. Antibodies are used to fight infections. The job of plasma is to move nutrients, hormones, and proteins throughout your body and help remove waste from cells.
The amount of plasma in your blood can be checked with a blood test called a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP). Levels of albumin and globulin, types of plasma proteins, can be measured in a CMP.
When a person donates plasma, the plasma is separated from the other blood components. The plasma is then frozen and may be called fresh frozen plasma or FFP.
What causes low plasma?
Low plasma levels can be caused by several medical issues including malnutrition, inflammatory disorders and celiac disease. In cancer patients, low plasma may be caused by a condition called disseminated intravascular dissemination (DIC). DIC can be caused by leukemia or by a blood stream infection (sepsis). It causes the body to make clots where they are not needed, which leads to clotting factors being used up. Your body will run out of clotting factors if DIC is not treated and this can lead to bleeding. Plasma can be given to replace the clotting factors lost.
Who needs a plasma transfusion?
There are many reasons why a person may receive plasma. These can include:
- To manage DIC.
- Liver disease.
- Manage medical emergencies like shock and burns.
- Bleeding in patients who take a blood thinner called warfarin.
How is a plasma transfusion given?
A laboratory that specializes in blood products will determine what type of plasma you should receive. Plasma is matched to your blood type.
Plasma is given through an intravenous (IV) line. The infusion is given over 15 minutes. Your vital signs (temperature, heart rate, oxygenation and blood pressure) may be checked before and after the infusion.
What are the risks of having a plasma transfusion?
Although not common, there are risks to having a plasma transfusion. These include infection and reactions. If you start to have itching, chills, any new pain, nausea, trouble breathing or your throat feels tight, let your nurse know right away.
The plasma you receive is collected from donors. All donated plasma is tested for viruses and bacteria. The risk of catching a virus or other infection from a plasma transfusion is very low. This includes HIV and Hepatitis B and C.
American Cancer Society. Blood Transfusions for People with Cancer. 2016. Found at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/blood-transfusion-and-donation/what-are-transfusions.html