Amyloidosis is the presence of excess of amyloid protein in different organs of the body. It is a rare disease that develops due to amyloid deposits in the vital organs like heart, kidneys and liver. Presence of such protein can seriously affect the tissues and organs in which it is found. In severe cases it can cause organ failure. Treatment of amyloidosis depends on the organ it has affected and the intensity of deposits of amyloid.
Signs of amyloidosis vary widely with the organ it has affected. An abnormal protein gets deposited in many organs and tissues affecting their normal function. This rare disease would not show any symptom until amyloid deposits has started affecting the organ. Some of the common symptoms of amyloidosis include fatigue, weakness, numbness in hands or feet, diarrhea or constipation (with bloody discharge), and shortness of breath and skin changes. In severe cases, the person can lose weight considerably and may have difficulty in breathing and swallowing.
- Cardiac Amyloidosis :
Amyloid protein can get deposited in your heart causing stiffness of the muscles. It can alter the rhythm of the heartbeat and in some cases reduce the blood flow to the heart. In such cases it can cause breathlessness, irregular heartbeat and swelling of ankles, extreme fatigue and heart failure.
- Kidney Amyloidosis :
If amyloid protein gets deposited in the kidneys it can seriously affect the basic function of kidney. It can lead to increased toxin build up in the body which can be evident by symptoms of swelling of ankles/feet, increased levels of protein in urine, and puffiness in the eyes. In case amyloidosis affects your liver or gastrointestinal tract it can alter the normal way of digestion. In such cases symptoms like diarrhea or constipation, loss of appetite, sharp pain in your stomach, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss are observed. In some people, it can affect the functioning of liver causing inflammation and reducing its function.
- Neuropathy Amyloidosis :
Amyloidosis can also affect your nervous system affecting the peripheral nerves. It can disrupt the normal communication of neuro signals from the brain to other parts of the body. It can also affect the functions of spinal cord. Symptoms of such amyloidosis include imbalance, loss of control in bowel movements, uncontrolled bladder function, tingling or numbness in extremities and light headedness.
Amyloidosis is caused by excess of deposits of abnormal protein (amyloid) in various tissues and organs. Amyloid is secreted in the bone marrow. Exact cause of amyloidosis depends on the organ it affects. In some cases amyloid gets collected in specific organ of the body but in others it can affect various organs.
- Immunoglobulin Amyloidosis :
This is the common type affecting vital organs like heart, kidneys and liver. It is also known as primary amyloidosis wherein bone marrow will start producing abnormal protein (amyloid light chain) which settles down in specific organ, thus interfering with its function.
- Secondary Amyloidosis :
This type of amyloidosis occurs due to chronic infections in the body like rheumatoid arthritis or due to severe inflammatory bowel disease. This can affect the kidneys causing renal amyloidosis.
- Hereditary Amyloidosis :
This type of amyloidosis can affect the kidneys, liver and nerves. It is inherited by birth and passed on to the children by the parents. Familial amyloidosis is believed to be one of the major causes of heart failure in men belonging to African American region.
- Dialysis Amyloidosis :
Abnormal protein amyloid gets deposited in the joints and tendons causing stiffness and sharp pain. This type develops on people who are taking dialysis treatment for long term.
- SSA :
Senile Systemic amyloidosis develops due to abnormal deposits of TTR in the tissues of the heart. This type occurs in older men. In rare cases amyloid protein affects only single organ like liver or spleen or digestive system and even your skin.
Who is at risk?
Amyloidosis can occur on any age group. But it commonly develops in older people and more particularly on men. People with chronic infectious disease or long term inflammatory disease are at risk of getting Amyloidosis. If your parent or close relative has amyloidosis you have more chance of developing it in future. People with long term dialysis are prone to get abnormal protein deposited in tissues and organs.
Amyloidosis can be life threatening causing damage to vital organs. It can affect your heart interrupting with the normal rhythm of heartbeat. It can also affect the normal blood flow causing more complications like heart failure. Amyloidosis can affect your kidneys causing renal failure. In rare cases amyloid protein gets deposited in the brain/spinal cord causing various neurological problems and high blood pressure.
On many occasions, amyloidosis can go undetected since the symptoms are similar to other common diseases. Loss of organ or serious damage can be prevented if the disease is diagnosed in early stages. The doctor would complete physical exam and order for complete blood test, urine test to check whether it contains amyloid protein. He may also order for liver function test and biopsy of tissue from the liver or kidney. He may also request for imaging tests like X-ray of the chest, echo test for your heart.
Amyloidosis cannot be cured. By taking effective treatments you can minimize the symptoms and prevent further damage caused to organs. The type of treatment varies with that of the type of amyloidosis you have and the organ it has affected. Chemotherapy is recommended to control the cells of bone marrow that produces amyloid. Stem cell therapy is done for people who are not in the advance stage. Stem cells are stored outside and the person will receive intense chemo sessions for some time. Further stem cells are injected into the body through a vein.
Kidney transplantation is done if the amyloidosis has affected normal function of kidneys causing renal failure. To control pain due to large deposits of protein in the organs, painkillers are prescribed. Your doctor may also prescribe diuretic medications to manage swelling caused by fluid retention. You have to modify your diet taking low salt diet. If diagnosis/treatment is not taken within a year or two, amyloidosis can be fatal.