Amyloidosis is a group of diseases in which amyloid—a protein-like substance—builds up in the organs and tissues. The buildup may happen systemically (throughout the body) or locally (in one tissue).

There are four major types of systemic amyloidosis:

Amyloid deposits can affect any organ or tissue. Localized amyloidosis affects more than 90% of people with Type II diabetes mellitus, people with certain cancers of the thyroid or other tumors of the endocrine system, and about 80% of people over age 80. It also affects people with conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Down's syndrome, hereditary cerebral hemorrhage, and the disease commonly known as "mad cow disease."

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms depend on the location and size of the amyloid deposits.

Any tissue may be affected in primary amyloidosis. Signs and symptoms may include the following: Signs and symptoms of hereditary amyloidosis may include the following: Signs and symptoms of secondary amyloidosis may include the following: Most people who are diagnosed with secondary amyloidosis have had their related inflammatory disease for a decade or more.

Beta2-microglobulin amyloidosis usually occurs in people who have end-stage renal (kidney) disease and need long-term dialysis, but it also can occur in people who use ambulatory dialysis. Deposits are often found in bones and joints. Such deposits may cause carpal tunnel syndrome, joint pain and stiffness, soft tissue masses, bone cysts, and fractures.

What Causes It?

The body naturally makes amyloid as it ages and deposits the amyloid in the space surrounding the cells. Some people accumulate abnormal amounts of amyloid, causing amyloidosis. Many factors can play a part in this; the process depends on the form of the disease. Hereditary amyloidosis results from genetic changes that cause the body to make abnormal proteins. Age seems to play a role in amyloidosis—researchers think the disease may be triggered by damage that accumulates in the body over time. This kind of damage may come from the body's use of oxygen (oxidation) and from free radicals (harmful by-products formed when cells use energy). Amyloid is also more likely to form in people who have immune system problems. Once amyloid deposits have started, they seem to continue building up in the same locations.

Who's Most At Risk?

People with the following profile are at increased risk for developing amyloidosis:

What to Expect at Your Provider's Office

Your healthcare provider may suspect amyloidosis based on your symptoms. Tests of blood, urine, bone marrow, or biopsies (samples of tissue) from abdominal fat, the rectum, or an affected organ may show signs of amyloid deposits. With hereditary amyloidosis, DNA tests may reveal the genetic change that caused the condition. Specialized X-ray studies of tissue samples may show the structure of amyloid deposits. Depending on the signs and symptoms, your healthcare provider may use other tests to find out more about your condition, such as which organs are affected and whether your condition is getting worse.

Treatment Options

Those who have hereditary amyloidosis in their family should consider going to genetic counseling to learn about the risks of passing the condition to their children.

Treatment Plan
In most people, treatment can help support health and reduce the impact of amyloidosis, but cannot cure the disease. Treatment involves decreasing the proteins that can make up amyloid. Chemotherapy is used for primary amyloidosis. There is no treatment per se for secondary amyloidosis; the underlying condition must be treated. A liver transplant may be necessary for hereditary amyloidosis. A kidney transplant may cure amyloidosis related to dialysis.

Drug Therapies
Under select circumstances, certain drug combinations, many of which are under investigation, have been used to treat primary amyloidosis. For amyloidosis related to kidney failure, researchers are studying other treatments, such as using new dialysis systems and adding antioxidants to the dialysis fluid; antioxidants may help rid the body of unstable compounds known as free radicals.

To help relieve symptoms, a healthcare provider may suggest:

Surgical and Other Procedures

Depending on which parts of the body are affected, the person with amyloidosis may need one of the following procedures:

Complementary and Alternative Therapies

Dietary choices, supplements, and herbs that aid in diminishing inflammation in general may, theoretically, help to prevent amyloidosis. Damage from oxidation may play a role in development of amyloidosis (see section entitled What Causes It?), particularly beta2-microglobulin, the form of amyloidosis related to hemodialysis. Along with changing dialysis methods, adding antioxidants may slow the disease. Animal studies support the idea that dietary changes to decrease inflammation and provide antioxidants slow the development of amyloidosis. Nutrition Several studies have examined the role of diet in amyloidosis. Some animal studies suggest that the following dietary choices may help prevent the disease for one who is at high risk or slow the disease process once amyloidosis has developed: While of these results represent a beginning and show promise, it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions about people from animal findings.

Additional nutritional information includes: Traditionally, certain health care professionals have recommended the following to try to help prevent inflammation in general: Herbs
Flavonoids are plant compounds that fight damage from oxidation and free radicals, as well as inflammation. They may be useful as a complement to standard medical care in treating amyloidosis:

Prognosis/Possible Complications

Most people with primary amyloidosis die within two years of diagnosis, usually of heart failure, uremia (toxic buildup of wastes in the blood), or other complications. About 20% survive 5 years or longer. With secondary amyloidosis, most people survive 5 to 10 years after their condition surfaces. Survival depends on how well the underlying condition is treated. In hereditary amyloidosis, the outlook varies depending on the type of gene mutation and when the condition is diagnosed. Some people survive as long as 15 years after the disease develops. In people with certain mutations that cause problems earlier in life (around age 20 to 30), the disease tends to worsen more quickly and cause death sooner. Kidney transplants stop beta2-microglobulin amyloidosis, but most patients are poor candidates for surgery.

People with amyloidosis affecting the heart are extremely sensitive to certain medicines. Digoxin may cause fatal irregular heartbeat. Calcium-channel blockers may worsen congestive heart failure. Diuretics and vasodilators may cause life-threatening low blood pressure.

Following Up

After diagnosis, tests may be performed on a regular basis to check levels of protein-related substances, the size and placement of amyloid deposits, the development of the disease, and the effects of treatment.


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