What is amyloidosis? An estimated 200,000 people suffer from some form of amyloidosis in the United States alone. Although rare, this condition can cause uncomfortable symptoms and can be life-threatening. If you or a loved one are affected by amyloidosis, it’s important to understand the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for this condition.
What is Amyloidosis?
Amyloidosis is a systemic condition that occurs when amyloid, an abnormal protein, starts building up in your organs. That build-up eventually interferes with the organ’s normal function.
Amyloidosis can affect the:
- Digestive system
- Nervous system
While amyloid isn’t found naturally in the body, it can be formed from many different types of protein.
Some forms of amyloidosis can develop because of another disease. In this case, treating the underlying disease can typically help ease symptoms. Other forms of this condition can lead to deadly organ failure.
There are several different types of amyloidosis, including:
- Localized: This form typically only affects one organ, such as the skin, bladder, lungs, or throat.
- AL: The most common form of this condition in developing countries. AL amyloidosis is also known as primary amyloidosis. In most cases, this form affects the kidneys, heart, nerves, and liver.
- AA: This form is also known as secondary amyloidosis. Typically, this form is caused by an inflammatory disease like rheumatoid arthritis and can affect the liver, kidneys, and spleen.
- Wild-type: This form of amyloidosis occurs when the TTR protein, which is produced by the liver, is normal but still produces amyloids. The Wild-type form typically affects men over 70 years of age and impacts the heart.
- Hereditary: An inherited form of the condition that affects the heart, nerves, and kidneys. This form can develop when the liver makes an abnormal TTR protein.
Amyloidosis Causes & Symptoms
Because there are many different types of amyloidosis, there are also many causes. Some forms are hereditary, while others are caused by external factors. People who have been on dialysis long-term may develop this condition. Inflammatory conditions can also contribute to the development of amyloidosis.
Common risk factors for amyloidosis can include:
- Gender: This condition is more common in men, although any gender can be affected by it.
- Age: Although it’s possible for younger individuals to develop this condition, it most commonly affects people between ages 60 and 70.
- Dialysis: Sometimes, kidney dialysis doesn’t remove all large proteins from the blood. This can lead to the build-up of abnormal proteins.
- History of disease: If you have a history of inflammatory or infectious disease, your risk of developing amyloidosis is higher.
- Genetics: Amyloidosis can be hereditary.
Symptoms of Amyloidosis
Some people may not experience symptoms until the condition has developed to an advanced stage.
Symptoms typically depend on the organ that’s affected and can include:
- Swelling in the legs and ankles
- Numbness, pain, or tingling in the feet or hands
- Shortness of breath
- Enlarged tongue
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Skin changes
- Trouble swallowing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Unexplained weight loss (10 pounds or more)
If you’re experiencing symptoms of amyloidosis, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible.
If amyloidosis is left untreated, it can lead to complications, such as:
- Kidney failure
- Heart problems
- Digestive issues
- Pain, tingling, or numbness in your extremities
Early diagnosis is key when treating amyloidosis. There are several ways doctors can diagnose this condition, including:
- Imaging tests: These can help determine which organs are affected and the extent of the disease. Your doctor may order an MRI, echocardiogram, or nuclear imaging.
- Lab tests: Your doctor may take a urine or blood sample to check for abnormal protein.
- Biopsy: A tissue sample may be taken to look for signs of this condition.
While there’s no cure for amyloidosis, there are several treatments available to help manage the signs and symptoms.
Conventional treatments can include:
Doctors may use medications to help treat amyloidosis. The type of medication may depend on the organs that are affected by the disease.
If your heart is affected, you may be prescribed blood thinners and other medications to normalize your heart rate. In addition, your doctor may also put you on a diet to reduce your salt intake and recommend medications to increase urination.
It’s not uncommon for doctors to use chemotherapy drugs in the treatment of amyloidosis. Chemotherapy drugs can help slow or stop the growth of abnormal cells producing abnormal protein.
There are also some medications used for specific types of amyloidosis, such as:
Depending on the type and severity of the amyloidosis, transplant surgery may be required. There are two types of transplants that can be performed:
- Organ: If your kidneys, liver, or heart have been severely damaged by the condition, an organ transplant may be recommended.
- Autologous blood stem cell: A procedure in which your stem cells are collected from your blood and stored while you take high doses of chemotherapy. The stem cells are then injected back into your body. This type of procedure is only recommended when the condition isn’t advanced and the heart isn’t really affected.
When amyloidosis causes kidney damage, dialysis may be required. Dialysis is a procedure in which salts, wastes, and fluid are removed from your blood. Essentially, a machine does the work of your kidneys for you.
Amyloidosis Natural Remedies
In addition to conventional treatment, many people look for natural remedies to complement their treatment protocol and find some relief from their symptoms. These remedies can include:
Topical DMSO is also traditionally used to treat lichen and macular amyloidosis.
Making lifestyle changes can go a long way in helping reduce your symptoms. Reducing your salt intake can help reduce fluid buildup.
Many people with this condition have difficulty absorbing nutrients from food. Meal replacement shakes or bars may be recommended to help you maintain a healthy weight and get the nutrients you need.
In general, eating a healthy, balanced diet of fiber, lean protein, healthy fats, and vegetables can help keep symptoms in check or reduce their severity.
Essential Oils for the Pain/Nerve Pain
When amyloidosis causes pain or nerve pain, essential oils may help bring some relief. There are several essential oils that are known for their pain-relieving and inflammation-reducing effects, including:
Essential oils can be applied topically when diluted with a carrier oil or as part of a pain-relieving spray or cream. You can also use these oils in a diffuser for whole-body relief.
Amyloidosis, although rare, is a serious condition that requires immediate medical care. While there is no cure, there are treatments to help manage your symptoms. The natural remedies above can complement your treatment and may provide added relief.
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