Man's Blood Was so Thick With Fat It Turned the Color of Milk

blood bag
File photo: Blood bag iStock

In a rare medical case, a man's blood became so thick with fat that it turned a milky color and had to be manually drawn out by doctors to save his life.

The case report, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, involved a 39-year-old man from Germany who turned up at the emergency room suffering from nausea, vomiting, headache, malaise and slowly deteriorating alertness. He had been seen by a doctor two days earlier because of weight loss, vomiting and headaches that had been getting worse for several months.

He had previously been diagnosed with diabetes and had a history of gallstones. He was also taking various prescription drugs intermittently. According to LiveScience, he lost consciousness in hospital and needed to have a breathing tube inserted.

Blood tests revealed he had extremely high levels of a type of fat called triglycerides. Normal levels are considered to be anything below 150 milligrams per deciliter. Very high levels are above 500 milligrams. The man had an extraordinary 14,000 milligrams. The levels of triglycerides were so high his blood had turned a milky color, LiveScience reports.

The man was diagnosed with hypertriglyceridemia, a condition where a person has high levels of triglycerides.

Further tests revealed the man had diabetic ketoacidosis, a dangerous complication of the disease where the body breaks down fat, leading to a build-up of acids in the blood. The high levels of triglycerides also put the man at risk of pancreatitis, where the pancreas becomes inflamed.

Blood milk color
Blood samples taken from the patient. Copyright © 2019 American College of Physicians. Used with permission. Annals of Internal Medicine

Initially, the doctors tried to remove the excess fat from his blood using a machine and technique known as plasmapheresis. However, his blood contained so much fat the machine got clogged up and could not be used. Instead, the doctors had to manually drain his blood via "bloodletting."

They took a liter of blood and replaced it with blood cells and plasma, allowing the triglyceride levels to be reduced. They then drew another blood and replaced it with fluids. Eventually, the man's triglyceride levels dropped low enough for the machine to take over—this time without clogging.

Cardiologist Guy Mintz, who was not involved in the case, told LiveScience the report highlights an "innovative treatment adaptation" in a potentially life-threatening situation. "I applaud the doctors for thinking out of the box," he told the website.

According to WebMD, there are several steps people with hypertriglyceridemia can take to reduce the level of fat in their blood. This includes losing extra weight, not smoking, limiting alcohol, cutting back on sugar and exercising every day.

This article has been updated to include an image of the milk-colored blood.