Primary amyloidosis is a disorder in which abnormal proteins build up in tissues and organs. Clumps of the abnormal proteins are called amyloid deposits.
The cause of primary amyloidosis is not well understood. Genes may play a role.
The condition is related to abnormal and excess production of proteins. Clumps of abnormal proteins build up in certain organs. This makes it harder for the organs to work correctly.
Primary amyloidosis can lead to conditions that include:
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Heart muscle damage (cardiomyopathy) leading to congestive heart failure
- Intestinal malabsorption
- Liver swelling
- Kidney failure
- Nephrotic syndrome
- Nerve problems (neuropathy)
- Orthostatic hypotension (drop in blood pressure when you stand up)
Primary amyloidosis is rare.
Symptoms depend on the organs affected. This disease can affect the tongue, intestines, skeletal and smooth muscles, nerves, skin, ligaments, heart, liver, spleen, and kidneys.
Symptoms may include any of the following:
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Swollen tongue
- Numbness of hands or feet
- Shortness of breath
- Skin changes
- Swallowing problems
- Swelling in the arms and legs
- Weak hand grip
- Weight loss
Other symptoms that may occur with this disease:
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will examine you. You will be asked questions about your medical history and symptoms. A physical exam may show that you have a swollen liver or spleen.
The first step in diagnosing amyloidosis should be blood and urine tests to look for abnormal proteins.
Other tests depend on your symptoms and what organ may be affected. Some tests include:
- Abdominal ultrasound to check the liver and spleen
- Heart tests such as an ECG or echocardiogram
- Kidney function tests to check for signs of kidney failure (nephrotic syndrome)
Tests that can help confirm the diagnosis include:
- Abdominal fat pad aspiration
- Bone marrow biopsy
- Rectal mucosa biopsy
Treatment may include:
- Stem cell transplant
If the condition is caused by another disease, that disease should be aggressively treated. This may improve symptoms or slow the disease from getting worse. Complications such as heart failure, kidney failure, and other problems can sometimes be treated, when needed.
How well you do depends on which organs are affected. Heart and kidney involvement may lead to organ failure and death. Body-wide (systemic) amyloidosis can lead to death within 2 years.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of this disease. Also call if you have been diagnosed with this disease and have:
- Decreased urine
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the ankles or other body parts that does not go away
There is no known prevention for primary amyloidosis.
Amyloid - primary
Gertz MA, Buadi FK, Zeldenrust SR, Hayman SR. Immunoglobulin light-chain amyloidosis (primary amyloidosis). In: Hoffman R, Benz EJ Jr, Silberstein LE, Heslop HE, Weitz JI, Anastasi J, eds. Hematology: Basic Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 87.
Update Date 2/8/2015
Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.