Friday, September 28, 2007

An alternative treatment for high cholesterol

Jeffrey Doucette, 43, of Boston, takes care of his two children, two nieces, and works full-time at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He dabbles in playing horseshoes, but has a strict loyalty to football, especially to the New England Patriots.

And every two weeks he finds at least two hours to treat his high cholesterol with a dialysis-like therapy called LDL apheresis.

When diagnosed with hyperlipidemia, or high cholesterol in the blood, most patients take standard medications to lower cholesterol levels. But Doucette does not respond to the maximum amount of cholesterol-lowering medications.

"They tried the medication, but they still couldn’t get it low enough," explains Doucette.

A life-changing Solution

For patients who do not respond to maximum drug therapy or who are intolerant to medical therapy, LDL apheresis can be a life-changing solution.

High cholesterol in the bloodstream significantly increases the risk for coronary heart disease, a condition that occurs when cholesterol builds up within the walls of the heart’s arteries and forms what is called plaque. If the arteries become completely blocked, a patient could potentially have a heart attack.

In addition, patients with high cholesterol often experience a condition called angina, or a chest discomfort caused by inadequate blood flow through the blood vessels of the heart muscle.

"Over the past year since Jeffrey has started the apheresis treatments, he has noticed clear improvement in his angina symptoms. He gets angina much less frequently and can do more work before it comes on," says Linda Hemphill, MD, cardiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center.

How it Works

LDL apheresis lowers cholesterol levels by circulating blood through a machine where the LDL cholesterol is filtered out of the blood's plasma. Both the patient’s red cells and plasma are circulated back to the body, a process somewhat similar to dialysis.

Patients visit the LDL Apheresis Program bi-weekly to receive the treatment. These two to four-hour treatments are generally very well tolerated by patients and reduce LDL levels, improving the standard of living for many patients.

Patients also need to make lifestyle changes to complement their treatment. Since joining the program, Doucette now:

  • Consumes nonfat dairy products
  • Avoids fried food
  • Chooses to eat fish
  • Incorporates exercise into life and is an avid walker

The Best and Only Choice

At age 53, Doucette's father passed away from heart-related conditions. One of his brothers passed away at 42, and the other two passed away in their 50s - all from heart conditions related to high cholesterol.

"With my family history, they really want to get it down," says Doucette.

For Doucette, the best and only choice is LDL apheresis treatment. A father of four, he cares for his daughter, son and two nieces. The two-hour time commitment is an afterthought compared to the potentially life-saving benefits of LDL apheresis.

"The time commitment isn’t a big factor," smiles Doucette.

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