In AL amyloidosis, amyloid deposits may affect any part of the body except for the brain. Usually one or two organs are predominantly affected (known as the “dominant” organs). The structure and properties of the abnormal light chain proteins forming the amyloid fibrils are slightly different in every single AL amyloidosis patient and symptoms also vary widely, depending on which organs contain amyloid deposits and the extent to which the deposits affect organ function. The precise way in which deposition of amyloid causes disease is not fully understood. There may be poor correlation between the amount of local amyloid and the extent to which organ function is lost. Although heavy amyloid load is invariably a bad sign, active deposition of new amyloid is often more closely linked to worsening disease than are stable, longstanding deposits.
AL Amyloidosis Symptoms
Patients with AL amyloidosis may complain of general problems such as weight loss, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite and easy bruising. They may also develop:
Kidney disease (>90%): kidney size is usually normal, but may be enlarged or, in advanced cases, reduced. Kidney problems seen in AL amyloidosis include:
- proteinuria (protein in the urine)
- nephrotic syndrome:
- large amounts of protein in the urine (>3.5g/day)
- low albumin in the blood
- peripheral oedema- swollen ankles
- end stage kidney failure: The kidneys stop functioning altogether and the patient needs either dialysis or a kidney transplant in order to survive.
- haematuria (blood in the urine)
- renal tubular defects
- nephrogenic diabetes insipidus
- renal calcification
Heart disease (90%): In addition to the physical damage caused to the heart structure and function by amyloid deposits, the amyloidogenic light chains may themselves be toxic to the heart muscle cells.
Heart problems seen in AL amyloidosis include restrictive cardiomyopathy in 30%. this means that the heart muscle is stiffened by amyloid deposits, so the heart cannot pump blood efficiently. This may lead to:
- shortness of breath even on minor exertion.
- arrhythmias (heart rhythm abnormalities) due to amyloid deposits affecting the electrical conducting system in the heart.
- angina (heart pain on exercise or at rest).
- fainting, sometimes on exertion, sometimes after eating.
For further information on amyloidosis and the heart, go to the section of the website on cardiac amyloidosis
Nervous system disease (neuropathy): amyloid deposits can affect the nerves controlling sensations and numerous bodily functions:
1. Peripheral neuropathy:
- In 10-20% of patients there is loss of pain and temperature sensation in the hands, feet and lower legs at first, and movement problems at a later stage.
- In 20% of patients there is carpal tunnel syndrome, with wrist and hand pain and tingling.
2. Autonomic neuropathy:
- Orthostatic hypotension: fainting and near-fainting on standing or sitting up due to blood pressure drop.
- Gut problems such as diarrhoea, constipation and early satiety (feeling full after eating a small amount).
Gut disease: Other than gut problems caused by autonomic neuropathy there may be:
- weight loss due to poor absorption of nutrients from food (malabsorption)
- rectal bleeding
Spleen and liver disease:
- enlarged spleen or problems with spleen function (hyposplenism)
- enlarged liver or liver failure
- easy bruising
- lesions on face, upper trunk and sometimes limbs-lumps, papules, nodules, and plaques
There may be nail changes.
Joint disease (rare), may:
- be similar to rheumatoid arthritis affecting many joints (polyarticular)
- affect single joints such as hip or shoulder
Additional AL amyloidosis signs
About 8% of patients with AL amyloidosis suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome – tingling and pain in the wrists, pins and needles in the hands.
In medical terminology, a finding is said to be pathognomonic of a disease if it occurs only in the presence of that disease. The following signs occur rarely (in less than 15% of patients with AL amyloidosis) but when present they are pathognomonic of AL amyloidosis, meaning that this is very likely to be the diagnosis:
2. shoulder pad sign
3. bruising of the skin around the eyes: “raccoon eyes”or “panda eyes”
Click here to see Dr Helen Lachmann, consultant nephrologist at the NAC, talking about organ involvement in AL amyloidosis.