Amyloidosis is a rare condition that develops when there is a substance i.e. amyloid in the organs. The substance is an abnormal protein that gets produced in the bone marrow and goes on to get deposited in different organs and tissues of the body.
In different people, amyloidosis can affect different organs in the body. Typically, organs such as the heart, spleen, digestive tract, nervous system and liver get affected. In the case of severe amyloidosis, one suffers the threat of organ failure, which can be very fatal.
The condition can be developed among any individual. It also causes several functional complications — these depend on the organs in which amyloid is deposited. In the kidneys it can cause the protein to leak out from the blood into the urine.
The function of the kidneys to effectively remove waste from the body is affected, and this in turn causes kidney failure. The condition can also restrict the ability of the heart from pumping blood normally with each heartbeat. This often leads to shortness of breath. The nervous system too is commonly affected by the condition. One will experience pain and numbness in the fingers and soles of the feet. It may also involve dizziness and tingling in the feet. However, there are some factors that can increase the risk of the condition, and the most notable ones include:
Age – There are cases where the condition has an earlier onset. However, the most common type i.e. AL amyloidosis is observed to occur among people in the age bracket of 60 to 70 years.
Genetics – While this factor is not clearly established, there are some types of amyloidosis that are carried through the genes.
Diseases – People who have had a history of any kind of chronic infections or suffered from inflammatory diseases are at an increased risk of suffering from AA amyloidosis.
Sex – Men are at an increased risk of suffering from amyloidosis.
Kidney dialysis – Dialysis treatment may not always be able to clear the kidney of large proteins from the blood. A patient who is on dialysis may have the buildup of abnormal protein in the blood and this can go on to eventually be deposited in the tissues.
Causes of Amyloidosis
As mentioned above, the condition is primarily triggered by the abnormal buildup of a protein known as amyloid. However, the specific cause will depend on the kind of amyloidosis that affects a person. Here are the specific causes for each type of amyloidosis:
Al amyloidosis – This is the most common kind of amyloidosis and affects organs such as kidneys, heart, skin, liver, and nerves. The type was formerly known as primary amyloidosis, and it develops when the bone marrow begins to develop abnormal antibodies that cannot be effectively broken down. When the antibodies get deposited in the tissues in the form of amyloid, they begin to interfere with the normal functions of the body.
Hereditary amyloidosis – As the name suggests, hereditary amyloidosis is a type that is inherited. It commonly affects the kidneys, heart, liver, and nerves. It may be traced to gene abnormalities that are present during birth. Depending upon the gene abnormality and its location, one may experience different kinds of complications and the kind of symptoms. Even the pace of disease progression will vary.
Dialysis-related amyloidosis – This is a common cause among people who undergo long-term dialysis. It usually develops when the proteins in the blood gets deposited in the tendons and joints. This in turn causes the deposition of fluids in the joints and stiffness. It also increases the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
AA amyloidosis – Previously known as secondary amyloidosis, this form of amyloidosis affects the kidneys, heart, liver, and digestive tract. The condition may be accompanied with inflammatory diseases or chronic infections that include inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms of amyloidosis
One may not experience any symptoms and signs during the initial development of the condition. However, as it advances, the signs becomes more evident. The type of symptoms will also vary greatly depending upon the organs that are affected. In case a person repeatedly experiences these symptoms, it is imperative to immediately see the doctor and work out a treatment plan. Here are some signs that may be prevalent in the condition:
- Irregular heart beats
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Change in skin health. Easy bruising, patching around the eyes, and thickening of the skin
- Numbness and tingling in the feet and hands
- Weakness and fatigue
- Tongue enlargement
- Constipation and blood in the stool
- Inability to breath properly
- Swelling in the joints of the legs and ankles
Unfortunately, the condition cannot be cured. But there are several kinds of treatments that are employed to manage the symptoms. The treatments also help in limiting the production of amyloid protein.