Filtering out bad cholesterol

March 19, 2009 3:40:34 PM PDT
More than 34 million American adults have high cholesterol. That means a number of 240 or higher. For some, diet and exercise can bring it down, but for others, even medication won't help. Now, patients have another option that filters out bad cholesterol. Ted Harrison says the more he plays pool, 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," Harrison said. "I had open heart surgery. I have had nine stents."

Now, Harrison has extremely high levels of LDL, or bad cholesterol. His high cholesterol is genetic. Changing his diet, exercising and medication didn't help, so he is one of the first to have his bad cholesterol removed from his body. Endocrinologists at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., are using HELP -- Heparin-Induced Extracorporeal Lipoprotien Precipitation -- to control Harrison's cholesterol.

"You're filtering out the bad cholesterol," said Dr. Anne Carol Goldberg, an endocrinologist at Washington University.

The blood is separated into red cells and plasma. The plasma runs through a machine that 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.

Harrison's LDL level went from above 200 to under 100 after one treatment -- but the bad cholesterol will build back up within weeks, so he will have the procedure twice a month, indefinitely.

"Any cholesterol you can keep out of your arteries that builds plaque is good," Harrison said.

It could be his last shot at a healthy life.

Normal LDL is under 100. To be eligible for the filter, a person must have an LDL level of at least 300, or 200 if a person has heart disease. The procedure is offered at a few dozen locations across the country.


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