If you have been diagnosed with amyloidosis, you are not alone; according to cancer.net, more than 4,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease every year. Also referred to as AL, amyloidosis is a disease that primarily affects individuals between the ages of 50 and 65 and is characterized by a buildup of amyloids (abnormal proteins that stick together), which adversely affects organs and tissues in the body. It is also important to note that amyloidosis can lead to organ failure if patients do not seek treatment as soon as possible. Amyloidosis is quite common among individuals diagnosed with either myeloma or end-stage kidney disease. It is more common in women than in men. Amyloidosis symptoms can vary depending on the organ that is impacted by the disease. In this article, we will take a closer look at amyloidosis as well as the symptoms of the disease and treatments currently available.
Causes of Amyloidosis
While the human body needs proteins to function optimally, some proteins like amyloids, for example, can have the opposite effect. Even though there are several proteins in the body can cause amyloid deposits, they don't all cause health problems. The factors that determine whether or not these deposits will affect one's health is predicated on the type of protein and also where within the body those proteins are being collected. Also, amyloid deposits can either gather in one area or spread throughout the entire body.
Having established that several proteins in the body can cause amyloid deposits, let's take a look at the different types of amyloidosis that can develop as a result of these deposits and how they affect the body:
- AA amyloidosis - In addition to a buildup of amyloid deposits, this condition is often precipitated by inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, or ulcerative colitis, for example. AA amyloidosis can adversely affect the kidneys, liver, heart, and digestive tract.
- AL amyloidosis – Similar to AA amyloidosis, this condition is linked to a buildup of amyloid deposits; however, it can also be caused by abnormal antibodies in the bone marrow that cannot be broken down by the body. It can also stem from multiple myeloma, which is a form of blood cancer. AL amyloidosis can adversely affect the kidneys, heart, liver, intestines, and nerves.
Symptoms of Amyloidosis
In many cases, the symptoms associated with amyloidosis can go unnoticed as they are usually quite subtle. The symptoms can vary depending on where the amyloid protein collects in the body and how far the disease has progressed. Some of the symptoms associated with amyloidosis include:
- Skin discoloration
- Joint pain
- Breathing problems
- Weight loss
- Feeling of fullness
- Swelling of the tongue
- Decreased grip strength
Treatments of Amyloidosis
Unfortunately, there is no cure for amyloidosis; however, there are treatments available that can help ease symptoms and also slow the production of amyloid proteins in the body. These treatments will be specific to the type of amyloidosis the patient has and the organs impacted by the disease. Some of the most commonly prescribed treatments include:
- Chemotherapy for those diagnosed with AL amyloidosis
- Steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation for those diagnosed with AA amyloidosis
- A Liver transplant for those with amyloidosis caused by genetic factors
- A kidney transplant for those diagnosed with either AL amyloidosis or AA amyloidosis
For patients who have an underlying health condition that is linked to amyloidosis, additional treatments will include targeting and resolving that underlying health condition. Additionally, some patients may be prescribed medication to help remove excess fluids from the body. Some patients may be advised to wear compression stockings to help reduce swelling in their feet or legs.
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