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What is amyloidosis?

Amyloidosis is a group of diseases that can affect the brain, heart, joints or kidneys. It is a rare condition that is caused when the body produces an abnormal protein called amyloid. This protein can collect in different organs in the body such as the kidneys or the heart, and stop them working as well as they should.

What are the symptoms of amyloidosis?

The symptoms of amyloidosis will depend on where the amyloid protein builds up in your body. Amyloidosis symptoms might be difficult to tell apart from symptoms of other medical conditions. They can include:

What causes amyloidosis?

It is not known why the amyloid protein forms in some people.

Sometimes it is inherited. Sometimes people who get amyloidosis already have another condition, such as multiple myeloma, a chronic inflammatory condition like some types of arthritis, or an infectious disease such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. If amyloidosis is triggered by another condition, it is often called secondary amyloidosis.

Sometimes amyloidosis comes on for no obvious reason.

How is amyloidosis diagnosed?

The symptoms of amyloidosis are similar to other common conditions, so it can take some time to be diagnosed. Your doctor will talk to you and examine you, and will probably order blood tests and x-rays.

You might need to have a biopsy, where your doctor sends a piece of affected body tissue for examination in a laboratory. The laboratory will use special dyes to show up the amyloid protein.

If amyloidosis is confirmed, your doctor may want to do additional testing to see how it has affected your body. These tests might include looking at the heart or the kidneys.

How is amyloidosis treated?

Treatment for amyloidosis will depend on the type of amyloid protein being produced by your body and where it builds up. Although there’s no cure for amyloidosis, improvements in diagnosis and treatment mean many people with the condition have long remissions and live fulfilling lives.

For some types of amyloidosis, medication can help, along with a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant.

Some people recover well with treatment, while others have ongoing problems with amyloidosis even after treatment. Your doctor will be able to discuss treatment with you in more detail.

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Last reviewed: July 2020

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