The WellSpan Spotlight

Diet and nutrition

Too much fat in your blood? WellSpan Cholesterol Care and Advanced Lipid Clinic can help

Too much fat in your blood? WellSpan Cholesterol Care and Advanced Lipid Clinic can help

Do you have high cholesterol levels? Does it run in your family? Are you worried about it? 

The WellSpan Cholesterol Care and Advanced Lipid Clinic programs provide targeted care to help you reduce high levels of cholesterol, a waxy substance produced by the body and found in food, in your bloodstream. Although cholesterol in the blood is important to our survival, too much exposure can damage your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Just ask Carol Mentzell. She says, "I was a heart attack or a stroke ready to happen." 

Her dad died at age 49 from a major heart attack. Carol's own cholesterol levels started to increase when she was in her 50s but she felt well and was leading an active life at her retirement community, playing ping pong, line dancing, and taking other exercise classes. 

Last year, the 72-year-old Adams County woman temporarily lost the sight in one eye, the result of a blockage of a vessel in her eye caused by blood exposure to high cholesterol over time. She discovered her total cholesterol level was 308 mg/dL, about twice the recommended level of 150 mg/dL. (Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliters of blood.) 

Carol ended up at the WellSpan Cholesterol Care program, where she was seen by Dr. Christopher Wenger, a WellSpan board-certified lipidologist. A lipidologist is a health care provider with expertise in diagnosing and treating lipid disorders. Dr. Wenger treated Carol with a whole food, plant-based diet and cholesterol-lowering medication. Her total cholesterol level is now a manageable 171 mg/dL. 

"The program completely changed my life," she says. "I feel like shouting it from the rooftops." 

About 86 million adults have total cholesterol levels higher than 200 mg/dL, with the greatest prevalence of high cholesterol in those ages 40 to 59, according to federal health statistics. As we age, our risk for high cholesterol increases because our bodies can't clear cholesterol from our blood as well as they could when we were younger. Unfortunately, age isn't the only risk factor. 

"If you have diabetes or obesity, your chance for developing high cholesterol is even greater," Dr. Wenger says. 

Another health condition, called familial hypercholesterolemia, causes high cholesterol levels. This inherited condition – found in about 1 out of 200 U.S. adults – causes very high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol levels beginning at birth. If left untreated, it continues to worsen artery health with age. 

The challenge is that high cholesterol has no signs or symptoms, so patients may not know they have the problem. Only about 54 percent of those who could benefit from cholesterol-lowering medicines are taking them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. 

"The first step is to talk to your primary care provider about your personal risks for artery disease and get tested," Dr. Wenger said. "You need to be aware if you have this potentially dangerous condition." 

WellSpan has two programs that treat patients with high cholesterol. 

The WellSpan Cholesterol Care program offers: 

  • Treatment for unhealthy cholesterol levels, including those who have not responded to the usual therapies. 
  • Treatment of high cholesterol levels caused by genes or resulting after a strong family history of heart disease. 
  • Treatment of those who have suffered early heart attacks (generally before the age 50) or strokes (generally before the age 45). 

The Advanced Lipid Care program features an added, more in-depth layer of care, offering: 

  • Board-certified lipidologists. 
  • Advanced genetic testing for patients and first-degree relatives. 
  • Advanced therapies such as lipid-lowering injectable drugs. 
  • Treatment for high cholesterol levels related to diabetes, kidney or liver disease, organ transplant, HIV, or an underactive thyroid condition. 

Both programs offer cardiac nutritionists who can help patients modify their diets to help lower their cholesterol levels. 

With the help of WellSpan Cholesterol Care, Carol embraced a diet high in leafy greens, whole grains such as quinoa and brown rice, beans, fruits, and lots of vegetables, and began taking a lipid-lowering drug. She has lost weight, has fewer aches and pains, and has more energy. 

"We want patients like Carol to not only feel well but to improve their health, so they can live longer, healthier lives," Dr. Wenger says. "We have the tools to help patients find the right combination of treatments so they can successfully lower their cholesterol. We will walk beside you and find the healthiest path." 

Talk to your family doctor about a referral to a WellSpan Cardiology practice in your neighborhood or to our Advanced Lipid Care program, which offers virtual appointments. For more information, go here