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LDL apheresis is a treatment intended for patients with high cholesterol, specifically excessive levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL). In this, some of the patient's blood is removed, filtered, and then returned to the body. As of 2010, this process is still relatively new and may not be available in many places. Patients usually need multiple, ongoing sessions to keep their cholesterol at acceptable levels.
This treatment is not appropriate for everyone. Doctors may recommend it for people with LDL cholesterol levels above 300 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Individuals with 200 mg/dL or higher, who are at risk for coronary heart disease, may also try LDL apheresis. In addition, patients generally need to have already tried medications, diet, and exercise. Should these conventional treatments be insufficient, they may consider blood filtering.
LDL apheresis is typically considered a last resort option. While this approach can lower levels by up to 80-percent, cholesterol will begin to build up again in the bloodstream. Therefore, patients often require an additional treatment about two to three weeks after the first procedure. Also, as of 2010, each of these procedures usually costs about $2,500 US Dollars (USD). Patients should check with their insurance carriers regarding coverage.
After informing the doctor of any medications he takes, such as blood-thinners, the patient's blood will be drawn. The blood is filtered through a machine that separates out the bad cholesterol, and then the rest of the blood is returned to the patient. This process occurs continually, with the blood constantly flowing in and out of the patient. It is similar to the actions of a kidney dialysis machine. LDL apheresis usually takes about two to four hours to complete.
It is unknown whether there are any long-term side effects from LDL apheresis, but very few patients have reported short-term side effects. Some individuals may experience low blood pressure. This has the potential to cause dizziness, fainting, and dehydration. Patients may also notice nausea, blurred vision, and rapid, shallow breathing. Cold, clammy skin and fatigue may also occur.
Patients should inform their doctors of any side effects they experience, as well as any concerns they have regarding the procedure. LDL apheresis may help improve the health of a person with very high cholesterol. It may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke. This procedure may also improve vascular function. Patients who have not had success treating high cholesterol with more conventional methods may consider using LDL apheresis.