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Home >> Specialities >> Nephrology >> Amyloidosis: Causes, Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Amyloidosis: Causes, Types, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Amyloidosis is a rare and complex group of diseases characterized by the abnormal accumulation of amyloid proteins in various organs and tissues throughout the body. These proteins can disrupt normal organ function and lead to a range of symptoms and complications.

Causes of Amyloidosis
Amyloidosis is caused by the misfolding and aggregation of specific proteins, primarily amyloid precursor proteins. The exact cause of this misfolding is not always clear, but it can be associated with various factors, including:

  • Aging: Amyloidosis is more common in older adults, as aging may increase the risk of protein misfolding.
  • Genetic Mutations: Some inherited genetic mutations can predispose individuals to certain types of amyloidosis.
  • Underlying Conditions: Chronic inflammatory or autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or multiple myeloma, can contribute to the development of amyloidosis.
  • Hereditary Factors: Familial amyloidosis is a rare form caused by specific genetic mutations passed down through families.

Types of Amyloidosis
There are several types of amyloidosis, each affecting different organs and tissues:

  • Primary Amyloidosis (AL): This form is associated with an abnormality in plasma cells in the bone marrow and is often related to multiple myeloma. AL amyloidosis can affect the heart, kidneys, nerves, and other organs.
  • Secondary Amyloidosis (AA): This type is typically a consequence of chronic inflammatory or infectious conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis or tuberculosis. AA amyloidosis can affect the kidneys, liver, and other organs.
  • Hereditary (Familial) Amyloidosis: This rare form is caused by genetic mutations and can affect the nervous system (ATTR), heart (TTR), or other organs and tissues.
  • Dialysis-related amyloidosis: Occurs in individuals on long-term haemodialysis and typically affects the bones and joints.
  • Senile Systemic Amyloidosis: Primarily affects the heart and occurs in older adults.

Symptoms of Amyloidosis
The symptoms of amyloidosis can vary widely depending on the type and affected organs. Common symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue: Generalized tiredness and weakness.
  • Swelling: Swelling in the ankles and legs due to kidney involvement.
  • Heart Problems: Shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, and other cardiac symptoms.
  • Nerve Issues: Numbness, tingling, and neuropathy.
  • Gastrointestinal Symptoms: Diarrhoea, constipation, or other digestive issues.
  • Skin Changes: Skin lesions or easy bruising.
  • Weight Loss: Unexplained weight loss.

Diagnosing amyloidosis is a complex process that typically involves multiple tests and procedures:

  • Blood and Urine Tests: Blood and urine samples can help detect abnormal protein levels or kidney dysfunction.
  • Biopsy: A tissue biopsy, often from the abdominal fat pad, bone marrow, or affected organ, can confirm the presence of amyloid deposits.
  • Imaging: Imaging tests like echocardiograms, CT scans, or MRI may be used to assess organ involvement.
  • Genetic Testing: In cases of hereditary amyloidosis, genetic testing can identify specific mutations.

Treatment Options
The treatment of amyloidosis depends on the type, extent of organ involvement, and individual factors. Common treatment options include:

  • Chemotherapy: For AL amyloidosis, chemotherapy or targeted therapies may be used to reduce the production of abnormal proteins.
  • Stem Cell Transplantation: High-dose chemotherapy followed by stem cell transplantation may be considered for eligible individuals with AL amyloidosis.
  • Medications: Specific medications can help manage symptoms and reduce the accumulation of amyloid proteins in secondary and hereditary amyloidosis.
  • Dialysis: For kidney involvement, dialysis may be necessary to remove waste and excess fluid from the blood.
  • Organ Transplantation: In severe cases where organ function is severely compromised, organ transplantation (e.g., heart, liver, kidney) may be considered.
  • Supportive Care: Managing symptoms, such as pain, swelling, and heart-related issues, with medications and lifestyle modifications.

The prognosis for amyloidosis varies widely depending on factors like the type, stage, and extent of organ involvement, as well as the timeliness of diagnosis and treatment. While some forms of amyloidosis may have a more favorable outlook, others can be life-threatening if left untreated. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial in improving outcomes and managing the disease effectively.

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