Five patients with primary biliary cirrhosis and prolonged cholestasis underwent intensive plasmapheresis. The indications for plasmapheresis included intractable pruritus or hypercholesterolemia and xanthomatous neuropathy. Patients noted a rapid improvement of pruritus and fatigue which was sustained as long as plasmapheresis was continued. Cholesterol levels were lowered an average of 10.3 mmol/l and xanthomata were reduced in three of four patients. Two patients with painful neuropathy caused by xanthomata experienced relief of this symptom. The liver and spleen size were not affected by plasmapheresis, and activities of aminotransferases, alkaline phosphatase and titres of mitochondrial antibody remained unchanged. We conclude that plasmapheresis has a role in the therapeutic management of patients with advanced primary biliary cirrhosis who are disabled by the complications of pruritus, xanthomatous neuropathy, or hypercholesterolemia with xanthoma formation.
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