Filtering out bad cholesterol

By Karen Abernathy - bio | email

More than 34 million American adults have high cholesterol. For some, the first step toward lowering cholesterol is by changing the diet and adding exercise.  Medication is usually the next option for treatment. But for severe, difficult to treat cases, even medication may not help.

Now, those difficult to treat patients have another option, a type of dialysis that actually filters out bad cholesterol.

The new treatment has Ted Harrison feeling better with fewer worries. He's enjoying his free time more than ever. He says the more he plays his favorite game of billiards, the luckier he gets. For the last 20 years, he's been trying to use that luck to win the fight against his body.

"I had radical throat cancer. I had open heart surgery. I have had nine stents."

Unfortunately, Ted's battle for a healthier life continues.  Now Ted has extremely high levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol.

"It's really an awful thing to have."

His high cholesterol is genetic. Changing his diet, exercising and medication didn't help, so Ted is one of the first to have his bad cholesterol, or LDL, removed from his body.

Endocrinologists at Washington University in Saint Louis are using HELP -- Heparin-Induced Extracorporeal Lipoprotien Precipitation -- to control Ted's cholesterol.

Endocrinologist Dr. Anne Carol Goldberg says it's for people with high cholesterol who won't respond to medication.  She says the machine basically "filters out the bad cholesterol."

To be eligible for the filter, a person must have an LDL level of at least 300, or 200 if he or she has heart disease.

The blood is separated into red cells and plasma. The plasma runs through this machine which grabs on to a protein found in LDL and removes it from the blood. The cleaned plasma is put back together with the red blood cells and returned to the body.

"This is the most efficient process for lowering LDL because it happens immediately," Dr. Goldberg said.

Ted's LDL level went from over 200 to under 100 after one treatment. But the bad cholesterol will build back up within weeks, so Ted will have the procedure twice a month, for the rest of his life.

The entire process takes an hour and a half to two hours, but Ted doesn't mind.

"Any cholesterol you can keep out of your arteries that builds plaque is good!"

Because it gives him another chance at a healthier life.

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