Healthbeat Report: Cholesterol filtering

July 9, 2009 9:14:20 PM PDT
When most people hear the term 'high cholesterol' they immediately think of an unhealthy lifestyle. But some people are actually born with the problem. And when diet, exercise and medications don't work there is one last option. It's a treatment that literally filters out bad cholesterol.Chelsea Thomas can take whatever life throws her way.

The 26-year-old Chicago resident lets nothing slow her down even though she's spent most of her life trying to outsmart a genetic curve ball.

Chelsea has an inherited disorder that causes dangerously high levels of LDL or bad cholesterol to accumulate in the blood and that ultimately can clog the arteries.

How severe is her situation?? For example, optimal levels of LDL are less than 100. At times Chelsea's level has been known to spike to 1,000.

Proper diet, exercise and medication just don't help.

"There was a point where I was extremely sick in the hospital and they said I was not going to make it," said Chelsea Thomas, high blood pressure patient.

Enter a machine and a procedure called LDL apheresis. It can do what standard treatments cannot. It somewhat resembles kidney dialysis. But this is about filtering bad cholesterol from the blood.

Only about a couple of dozen hospitals in the U.S. offer the technique. Loyola University Medical Center is one of them.

"Literally we are physically removing the bad cholesterol out of the blood plasma," said Dr. Phillip DeChristopher, pathologist, Loyola University Medical Center.

The blood is separated into red cells and plasma. The plasma runs through this machine which grabs on to a protein found in l-d-l and removes it from the blood.

The cleaned plasma is put back together with the red blood cells and returned to the body.

"It's a resort we go to when something else easier doesn't work," said Dr. DeChristopher.

It's an invasive procedure that requires access into the body through a port. It takes about three hours. And for Chelsea it has to be repeated once a week because the bad cholesterol builds back up.

"I've had open heart surgery. I have had nine stents," said Thomas.

Ted Harrison has tried just about every cholesterol fighting medication on the market with no success and he's had more than a dozen surgeries to clear up heart and artery problems. His extremely high levels of cholesterol are to blame.

Doctors at Washington University in St. Louis have also resorted to using the filtering technique on Ted.

"This is the most efficient process for lowering LDL because it happens immediately," said Dr. Anne Carol Goldberg, endocrinologist, Washington University.

Filtering out troublesome cholesterol may sound appealing as a quick fix but it is, inconvenient, expensive and can carry risks. That's why it's not for the masses. Only patients with the most severe and stubborn cholesterol problems are candidates.

It's a process Chelsea 's been enduring since childhood and she knows it's probably a lifelong commitments.

"I'm really kinda use to it," said Thomas. "I've just been in and out of the hospital ever since I can remember."

Normal LDL is under 100. In most cases to even be considered for the filter a person must have an LDL level of at least 300, or 200 if they have heart disease. The procedure is offered at a few dozen locations across the US.

Judy Martin
Public Relations
Washington University School of Medicine
St. Louis, MO
314-286-0105

Loyola University Medical Center Heart and Vascular Disease Prevention: www.loyolamedicine.org/Medical_Services/Heart_Vascular/What_We_Do/Prevention.cfm
The company Loyola uses is Liposorber: www.liposorber.com.

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