An amyloid is an abnormal protein produced by a person’s bone marrow. It builds up in the body’s organs and, while rare, is very serious. The disease is called amyloidosis, and to date, there is no cure.
Some patients don’t exhibit any symptoms until the condition is very advanced, and organ damage has already occurred. Some of the symptoms of the disease are edema in the ankles and legs, fatigue, numbness, shortness of breath, and difficulty swallowing.
There are a number of different types:
- Immunoglobulin light chain (AL) amyloidosis: The bone marrow produces abnormal antibodies that the body is unable to break down. As a result, the antibodies collect in tissues and interfere with normal metabolic function. It’s the most common type.
- AA amyloidosis: This type affects the kidneys, digestive tract, heart, and liver. It commonly occurs sometimes with inflammatory diseases.
- Hereditary (familial) amyloidosis: This form is hereditary and most often affects the heart, kidneys, liver, and nerves. It is twice as likely to affect African-American men than Caucasian men.
- Dialysis-related amyloidosis: This type is caused by proteins in the blood that are deposited in the joints and tendons. It’s somewhat common with long-term dialysis.
A diagnosis generally follows blood work, imaging tests, and a biopsy. As with all diseases and disorder, early diagnosis helps people to have better outcomes. And in the case of this disease, it can prevent organ damage.
While there’s no cure for amyloidosis, it is treatable.
Chemotherapy is one form of treatment. It’s used to stop the bone marrow from producing abnormal cells. Among other treatments is the peripheral blood stem cell transplant. Stem cells are taken from the patient while he or she is undergoing chemotherapy, and then reintroduced to the body.