What is amyloidosis?

Amyloidosis (am-uh-loy-doh-sis) is a protein disorder. In this disease, proteins change shape (misfold), then bind together and form amyloid fibrils which deposit in organs. As amyloid fibrils build up, the tissues and organs may not work as well as they should.

Our bodies make several proteins that can cause amyloidosis. To choose the right treatment, it is very important to know the exact protein that is causing the disease. The two most common types are light chain (AL) and transthyretin (ATTR) amyloidosis.

What is AL (light chain) amyloidosis?

Light chains are pieces of antibodies made by white blood cells, specifically plasma cells, in the bone marrow. In AL amyloidosis, a group of plasma cells make too many light chains, which misfold and bind together to form amyloid fibrils. The fibrils are then deposited in organs. The most common organs affected are the heart and kidneys. Light chain amyloidosis can also affect the stomach, large intestine, liver, nerves, skin and can cause an enlarged tongue. The condition can cause problems with one or more parts of the body.

Amyloid fibrils affect such organs as the heart, kidneys, liver, nerves and digestive tract.

What are the signs and symptoms of AL amyloidosis?

AL amyloidosis can affect many organs, resulting in the following signs and symptoms:

Symptoms indicating the arms are affected include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Numbness, burning and/or tingling (peripheral neuropathy)
  • Weak fingernails

Symptoms indicating the legs are affected include:

  • Swelling of the feet or legs
  • Leg weakness
  • Weak toenails

Symptoms indicating the head and neck are affected include:

  • Lightheadedness upon standing
  • Purple color on the eyelids and/or around the eyes
  • Enlarged tongue

Symptoms indicating the heart and lungs are affected include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations (arrhythmias)
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue

Symptoms indicating the stomach or intestines are affected include:

Symptoms indicating the kidney and bladder are affected include:

  • Excessive bubbles in the urine
  • Urinating less
  • Getting up at night to urinate

Other signs and symptoms:

  • Bruising or bleeding easily
  • Purple color in skin folds

AL Amyloidosis Symptoms Chart

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/02/2020.


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