Updated: 05/27/2004 05:55 PM
Some people can't get rid of artery-clogging LDL, the bad cholesterol, no matter what they do. But there's a new technique for patients with extreme problems.
Patricia Young, 49, has coronary artery disease and other health problems from sky high cholesterol. Traditional treatments don't work for her because of a genetic condition.
“Like being a walking time bomb,” Patricia said. “You don’t know when a heart attack is going to come, when the heart is going to give out, when an artery or vein is gonna just shut off."
Every two weeks she drives eight hours round-trip through four states to the University of Pennsylvania. It’s one of a handful of places with a new cholesterol filtering device called LDL Apheresis.
"Selective LDL Apheresis is a real advance because what we used to do is literally just take blood out of people and throw it away and give them just salt water back,” said Preventive Cardiologist Dr. Daniel Rader.
The technology is similar to kidney dialysis. In a three to four hour process, Patricia’s blood is pumped through the machine - separated, filtered and returned to her, LDL free.
"Everything else passes through the column and goes back into the patient,” said Clinical Pathologist Don Siegel, M.D., Ph.D.
Studies show the treatment is safe and effective.
“Everything we know says that when you lower cholesterol dramatically with LDL Apheresis, you substantially reduce people’s risk of having heart disease, heart attacks and other problems related to the vascular system,” Dr. Rader added.
Told she wouldn't live past 30, for Patricia, it's a life-saver. “I can do just basically what most other people do. So, I have a life."
And she doesn’t mind frequent long trips to keep it.
LDL Apheresis is not a first-line treatment but more like a last resort, because today there are so many other ways - lifestyle changes, weight loss, diet and various medications - that effectively control cholesterol for most people.
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