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Amyloidosis

Amyloidosis is a group of diseases that can affect the brain, heart, joints or kidneys. It is a rare condition that is caused by an abnormal protein in the body. Treatment will depend on what kinds of problems the disease causes.

Amyloidosis occurs 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 causes amyloidosis?

It is not known why the amyloid proteins form in some people.

Sometimes it is inherited. Sometimes people get amyloidosis already have another chronic condition, such as multiple myeloma, a chronic inflammatory, or a chronic infectious disease such as Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. If amyloidosis is triggered by another condition, it is often called secondary amyloidosis.

Sometimes it comes on for no obvious reason.

Amyloidosis symptoms

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:

Amyloidosis diagnosis

Because the symptoms of amyloidosis aren’t specific to the condition, 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 under a microscope. There are special dyes in the laboratory that will show up the amyloid protein.

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

Amyloidosis treatment

Treatment for amyloidosis will depend on the type of amyloid protein being produced by your body and where it builds up. 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 they have had treatment. Your doctor will be able to discuss treatment with you in more detail.

Last reviewed: August 2016

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