Amyloidosis is a rare disease that has no cure. However, with prompt and ongoing treatment, you can help decrease symptoms and prevent or delay long-term complications.
It’s important to understand the complications of amyloidosis so you can talk to your doctor about your risk factors and preventive measures. Read on to learn more about the common complications of this disorder.
Amyloidosis often affects the kidneys first. A buildup of amyloid protein can lead to solid deposits that get stuck in your kidneys. Unlike other types of waste, the kidneys are unable to easily remove these deposits through the production of urine.
If your kidneys are affected in addition to other tissues, and amyloid protein is seen in your kidneys on biopsy, your doctor may diagnose you with light-chain amyloidosis (AL amyloidosis), previously known as primary amyloidosis.
The kidneys can slowly become overburdened with amyloid. This can lead to complications such as scarring, renal problems, bone disease, anemia, and high blood pressure. You may also experience swelling in the body, especially in the ankles and legs.
Other symptoms you may experience include:
- shortness of breath
- low blood pressure
- stiff joints
- unintentional weight loss
If you don’t receive proper treatment, kidney failure is a possible complication. Your doctor may recommend a transplant if your kidneys become significantly damaged.
Amyloidosis can decrease overall heart function. Amyloid buildup throughout the body — including blood vessels and muscle tissue — can make it more difficult for your heart to pump efficiently. This can cause abnormal heart rhythms and shortness of breath.
When this disease affects your heart, your doctor may diagnose you with cardiac amyloidosis. The most common subtype that causes heart issues is AL amyloidosis.
Damage to the heart from this condition is irreversible. If necessary, your doctor may suggest a heart transplant.
People with amyloidosis are also at risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension). For one, the kidneys can’t remove waste properly, which can result in sodium and fluid buildup in the body. This is just one risk factor for hypertension.
Another reason you might develop hypertension is from long-term vascular issues. Since amyloid can build up in your blood vessels, this makes it harder for your heart to pump blood throughout your body.
The nervous system is a complex body system that helps you control movement and basic bodily functions. When there’s a buildup of amyloid proteins in the body, your nervous system won’t function like it should.
Numbness and tingling sensations are common, especially in your hands and feet. You may also have pain in your joints and wrists from carpal tunnel syndrome. Your feet may feel like they’re burning, and you may develop ulcers in this area.
Collectively, these symptoms can eventually make it hard to walk, work, and complete other daily tasks.
Bowel functions are also controlled by the nervous system. This is why one symptom of amyloidosis is alternating constipation and diarrhea. Aside from the daily discomforts of such bowel movements, you may also be at risk of bowel damage.
Eventually, this may lead to further complications such as malnutrition and unintentional weight loss.
Nerve damage from amyloid buildup can also cause dizziness and lightheadedness. Such sensations are especially noticeable when you first wake up or stand up from long periods of sitting.
Since there’s no cure for amyloidosis, treatment is important to prevent complications. Your doctor may also discuss other related complications with you, such as skin changes and liver dysfunction.
While this is a challenging disease to diagnose and care for, don’t give up. Awareness of the possible complications can empower you to work with your doctor for better treatments that can improve your quality of life.