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Expert Insights: AL Amyloidosis: Symptoms, Diagnostics and Challenges

Dr. Gurbakhash Kaur, co-director of the amyloidosis program at UT Southwestern Medical Center, opens with a brief overview of the disease. Focusing on AL Amyloidosis, she shares how heterogeneously this disease presents – it can be very different from patient to patient, amplifying the diagnostic challenge. Symptoms may also be more commonly associated with other diseases. For example, proteinuria is often associated with diabetes and hypertension. However, clinicians should look at the bigger picture to be sure, as amyloidosis can also be a cause. Dr. Kaur reviews what should be in a basic workup when one has a clinical suspicion for amyloidosis. Once tested positive for amyloidosis, a second necessary step is to determine the type of amyloidosis. This is critical as it will determine the appropriate course of treatment. In closing Dr. Kaur summarizes the goals of treatment, what is available today, and what drugs are in clinical trials, giving lots of hope to the AL amyloidosis community.

Diagnosing Amyloidosis: From Cardiology to Neurology – When to Think About Amyloidosis

Dr. J. Mark Sloan, Associate Professor of Medicine, Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. He is a member of the BU Amyloidosis Center, the Evans Center for Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research at BU, and the program director for the hematology/oncology fellowship at Boston University. In this video, developed exclusively for the Amyloidosis Speakers Bureau, he provides a comprehensive clinical overview of diagnosing amyloidosis, from cardiology to neurology, and when to think about amyloidosis.

AL and ATTR Amyloidosis: Recognition and Diagnosis — The Key to Successful Treatment

Dr. Heather Landau, Associate Attending Physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering, provides a comprehensive clinical overview of amyloidosis. Spanning recognition and diagnosis – the key to successful treatment.

 

Carpal Tunnel & Amyloidosis

Look to the Wrist for an Early Diagnostic Clue: Tissue samples from carpal tunnel surgery hold screening utility

According to the Cleveland Clinic, tenosynovial tissue biopsy at the time of carpal tunnel surgery can be a useful tool for detecting cardiac amyloidosis at an earlier stage, suggests a recent Cleveland Clinic study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) (2018;72:2040-2050).

“We found that 1 in 10 older patients who underwent carpal tunnel release surgery for idiopathic carpal tunnel syndrome had either ATTR [transthyretin] or AL [light chain] amyloidosis in a sample of patients who had tenosynovial tissue removed,” says Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Mazen Hanna, MD, the study’s primary investigator. “This may be an early marker or precursor of amyloid heart disease.”

An accompanying editorial in JACC (2018;72:2051-2053) calls the investigation “a well-conducted pilot study that should be seen as a justification for larger screening efforts.”

Better defining the amyloid/carpal tunnel connection

The study was prompted by recognition that, despite the classic association of amyloidosis with carpal tunnel syndrome, the frequency of cardiac involvement at the time of carpal tunnel release surgery had never been established.

“The index patient that got us thinking about this project was operated on by Cleveland Clinic orthopaedic surgeon William Seitz, MD, a key collaborator on the study, who noted thickened tenosynovial tissue and astutely asked for a Congo red stain,” Dr. Hanna explains. “In the wake of that, we decided to undertake this study to determine the prevalence and type of amyloid deposits in carpal tunnel surgery patients and assess for cardiac involvement.”

So Drs. Hanna and Seitz, together with colleagues from Cleveland Clinic’s Heart & Vascular and Orthopaedic & Rheumatologic Institutes, ended up prospectively studying consecutive men aged 50 or older and women aged 60 or older undergoing carpal tunnel release surgery at Cleveland Clinic over a one-year period. They stained samples of tenosynovial tissue from all patients; those with confirmed amyloid deposits were typed with mass spectrometry and the patients underwent cardiac evaluation consisting of electrocardiography, echocardiography with longitudinal strain, technetium pyrophosphate scintigraphy and blood tests for biomarkers.

Findings prompt therapy initiation in three patients

Of the 98 patients enrolled, 10 (10.2 percent) had a positive biopsy for amyloid — seven ATTR, two AL and one untyped. Two of these patients were diagnosed with hereditary ATTR, two were determined to have cardiac involvement (one AL, one ATTR wild-type) and three were started on pharmacologic therapy.

Notably, patients with ATTR demonstrated no difference in plasma transthyretin concentration or tetramer kinetic stability, which indicates that these measures likely cannot serve to detect cardiac amyloidosis on their own.

Low-cost method of early detection

“Amyloid cardiomyopathy is an underrecognized cause of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction,” Dr. Hanna observes. “We believe that screening patients for amyloidosis when they have carpal tunnel surgery can be an inexpensive way to diagnose cardiac involvement early and help avert progressive heart failure.”

This is particularly true, he notes, with the advent of the first effective therapies for cardiac amyloidosis, which recently have rendered the condition medically treatable for the first time.

“The early recognition made possible by tenosynovial tissue biopsy is critical, since current treatment strategies suppress the production of precursor protein or prevent protein misfolding but do not directly target current amyloid deposits,” Dr. Hanna explains. “This allows for implementation of disease-modifying therapy prior to development of cardiac symptoms.”

He adds that the detection of AL in two of the 10 patients with biopsy-diagnosed amyloidosis is especially notable since AL cardiac amyloidosis tends to progress more rapidly and has a poor prognosis once cardiac involvement advances.

Time for a screening algorithm

Dr. Hanna and his colleagues are continuing to follow up the study cohort to observe and report additional noteworthy findings. In the meantime, these initial results, together with emerging data related to soft tissue amyloidosis, have prompted implementation of a new screening algorithm at Cleveland Clinic.

The algorithm, available as a supplementary online figure to the JACC study report, guides hand surgeons on the appropriateness of tenosynovial biopsy at the time of carpal tunnel release surgery. If Congo red staining is positive, typing with mass spectrometry and referral to an amyloidosis specialist is indicated.

The authors of the accompanying JACC editorial note that while the best screening methodology remains to be determined, “a screening algorithm will likely be incorporated into everyday clinical practice in the near future.”

Learn more about other orthopedic manifestations

 

Closing Words



Peripheral Neuropathy & Amyloidosis

Neuropathy, also known as peripheral neuropathy, is a broad term that is used to describe damage to the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord. There are over 100 types of peripheral neuropathy that can be classified into four categories, with each type having their own symptoms and prognosis. In this article, we’ll discuss the types of peripheral neuropathy and its connection to amyloidosis.

 

Symptoms

One of the challenges with neuropathy is the fact that symptoms can vary significantly based on what nerve is damaged. Additionally, symptoms can develop over the course of months to years (chronic neuropathy) or come on suddenly (acute neuropathy). Some of the most commonly seen symptoms are listed below:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Cramps
  • Muscle twitching
  • Loss of muscle and bone
  • Changes in skin, hair, or nails
  • Numbness
  • Loss of sensation or feeling in body parts
  • Loss of balance or other functions as a side effect of the loss of feeling in the legs, arms, or other body parts
  • Emotional disturbances
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Loss of pain or sensation that can put you at risk, such as not feeling an impending heart attack or limb pain
  • Inability to sweat properly, leading to heat intolerance
  • Loss of bladder control, leading to infection or incontinence
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting because of a loss of control over blood pressure
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or incontinence related to nerve damage in the intestines or digestive tract
  • Trouble eating or swallowing
  • Life-threatening symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or irregular heartbeat

 

Types of Neuropathy

  1. Motor Neuropathy → Damage to the motor nerves control how you move.
  2. Sensory Neuropathy → Damage to sensory nerves control what you feel.
  3. Autonomic Nerve Neuropathy → Damage to autonomic nerves that control functions that are involuntary (ie. you do not consciously control).
  4. Combination Neuropathies → Damage to a mix of 2 or 3 of these other types of neuropathies. For example, damage to both sensory and motor nerves would result in sensory-motor neuropathy.

 

Amyloidosis

Peripheral Neuropathy is one of the hallmarks of amyloidosis, often seen in the transthyretin form of amyloidosis (ATTR). ATTR-PN, or transthyretin amyloid polyneuropathy, is a disease where the transthyretin protein becomes unstable and misfolds. This unstable protein (“amyloid”) then deposits in the nerve tissue, resulting in damage to these nerves. While amyloid deposits primarily in the peripheral nerves, it is not uncommon for amyloid deposition in the autonomic nerves as well. 

While peripheral neuropathy is most commonly associated with ATTR amyloidosis, it should be noted that peripheral neuropathy is also seen in 15-35% of patients with AL amyloidosis.

Most importantly, these are the most common and important signs and symptoms to be aware of, in order to diagnose ATTR amyloidosis.

 

Neurological Complications of ATTR Amyloidosis

Patients with ATTR amyloidosis are commonly faced with neurological complications. In this presentation, Dr. Chafic Karam from the University of Pennsylvania goes through four areas: an overview of the neurological systems, how amyloid damages the nerves, neurological signs of ATTR amyloidosis, and how to detect amyloid and diagnose ATTR amyloid neuropathy.

 

 

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References:

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14737-neuropathy

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/peripheral-neuropathy

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/peripheral-neuropathy/symptoms-causes/syc-20352061

https://practicalneurology.com/articles/2021-july-aug/neuromuscular-amyloidosis

https://healthjade.net/familial-amyloidosis/

 

Proteinuria & Amyloidosis

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Proteinuria is due to increased levels of protein in the urine.” Your kidneys filter waste products from your blood while retaining what your body needs — including proteins. However, some diseases and conditions allow proteins to pass through the filters of your kidneys, causing protein in the urine.

 

HOW DOES PROTEIN GET INTO URINE? (1)

Protein gets into the urine if the kidneys aren’t working properly. Normally, glomeruli, which are tiny loops of capillaries (blood vessels) in the kidneys, filter waste products and excess water from the blood.

Glomeruli pass these substances, but not larger proteins and blood cells, into the urine. If smaller proteins sneak through the glomeruli, tubules (long, thin, hollow tubes in the kidneys) recapture those proteins and keep them in the body.

However, if the glomeruli or tubules are damaged, if there is a problem with the reabsorption process of the proteins, or if there is an excessive protein load, the proteins will flow into the urine.

 

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PROTEINURIA? (2)

Often, someone with proteinuria doesn’t experience symptoms, especially if kidneys are just beginning to have problems. However, if proteinuria is advanced, symptoms can include:

  • More frequent urination
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Swelling in the face, belly, feet or ankles
  • Lack of appetite
  • Muscle cramping at night
  • Puffiness around the eyes, especially in the morning
  • Foamy or bubbly urine

Conditions that can cause a temporary rise in the levels of protein in urine, but don’t necessarily indicate kidney damage, include:

  • Dehydration
  • Emotional stress
  • Exposure to extreme cold
  • Fever
  • Strenuous exercise

However, according to the Mayo Clinic (2), there are diseases and conditions that can cause persistently elevated levels of protein in urine, which might indicate kidney disease, such as:

TESTING FOR PROTEINURIA

The only way to know if you have protein in your urine, an established marker for chronic kidney disease, is to have a urine test.

“Integral to the process of evaluating for proteinuria is quantification of the total amount of protein spilling into the urine. The various methods to detect proteinuria include urine dipstick and sulfosalicyclic acid test (SSA); quantification methods include the ratio of albumin or protein to creatinine (UACR or UPCR) and the 24-hour urine protein collection.

The gold standard for quantification of proteinuria is the 24-hour urine collection. The test is performed by voiding upon waking and then collecting all urine on subsequent voids until the first void of the next day.“ (11)

In a retrospective study (5), researchers evaluated data from 265 patients with systemic AL amyloidosis who visited the Amyloidosis Center at Boston University Medical Center between July 1, 2018, and Jan. 1, 2020. This study examined the correlation between 24-hour urine testing and [urine protein-to-creatinine ratio] UPCR at various proteinuria levels in patients with AL amyloidosis. All patients underwent proteinuria measurement by 24-hour collection and UPCR in the same day. According to Andrea Havasi, MD, “In summary, although 24-hour urine collection is cumbersome, we continue to recommend it in patients with AL amyloidosis and kidney involvement.

 

CONCLUSION (12)

Amyloidosis can be a life-threatening disease because it can cause progressive organ damage and irreversible failure. Although it may affect any organ, one of the most frequently involved organs is the kidney, and clinically evident renal disease occurs in about 50-80% of cases. Typical manifestations of renal involvement are proteinuria, nephrotic syndrome (i.e., concomitant proteinuria, hypoalbuminemia, and peripheral edema), renal insufficiency, and end-stage renal disease (ESRD) requiring hemodialysis. All forms of systemic amyloidosis can lead to renal involvement. AL amyloidosis induces proteinuria and renal insufficiency in up to 73% and 50% of cases, respectively. ATTR amyloidosis typically does not involve the kidneys, but it can induce proteinuria and ESRD in some patients.

 

Therefore, when you have a patient with proteinuria, investigate why and don’t assume a benign origin. There are many serious causes, one of which may be amyloidosis.

 

Stay curious.

 

 

 

======== References  =========

  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16428-proteinuria
  2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16428-proteinuria
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/protein-in-urine/basics/causes/sym-20050656
  4. https://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-disease/kidney-problems/protein-in-urine.html
  5. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/proteinuriawyska
  6. https://www.healio.com/news/nephrology/20220209/researchers-regard-24hour-proteinuria-collection-best-for-amyloid-light-chain-amyloidosis
  7. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/albumin-blood-test/#:~:text=Albumin%20is%20a%20protein%20made,and%20enzymes%20throughout%20your%20body.
  8. https://www.kidney.org/content/kidney-failure-risk-factor-urine-albumin-to-creatinine-ration-uacr
  9. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/24hour-urine-collection#:~:text=A%2024%2Dhour%20urine%20collection%20is%20a%20simple%20lab%20test,is%20returned%20to%20the%20lab
  10. https://www.kidneyfund.org/all-about-kidneys/tests-for-kidney-disease/urine-tests
  11. https://www.mdedge.com/clinicianreviews/article/210146/nephrology/proteinuria-and-albuminuria-whats-difference
  12. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/238158-workup
  13. Talamo G, Mir Muhammad A, Pandey MK, Zhu J, Creer MH, Malysz J. Estimation of Daily Proteinuria in Patients with Amyloidosis by Using the Protein-To-Creatinine ratio in Random Urine Samples. Rare Tumors. 2015 Feb 18;7(1):5686. doi: 10.4081/rt.2015.5686. PMID: 25918613; PMCID: PMC4387359.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387359/#:~:text=AL%20amyloidosis%20induces%20proteinuria%20and,50%25%20of%20cases%2C%20respectively.&text=ATTR%20amyloidosis%20typically%20does%20not,and%20ESRD%20in%20some%20patients

 

 

Expert Insights: Amyloidosis – A Brief Clinical Overview

Dr. Sarah S. Lee, Assistant Professor, Division of Hematology, at the City of Hope, provides a brief yet comprehensive clinical overview of amyloidosis. In this video Dr. Lee discusses the breadth of amyloidosis, the wide range of symptom presentations, and which organs are typically involved. Focusing on AL (light chain) and TTR (transthyretin) types, she then goes through a diagnostic workup to arrive at a diagnosis, stressing the importance of typing once the presence of amyloid has been confirmed. Concluding her overview, Dr. Lee describes treatments available and how they impact patient prognosis and quality of life.

 

Cardiac Clues that Suggest Transthyretin Amyloidosis – Part I

In part 1 of a 2-part series, Dr. Keyur Shah, cardiologist from VCU Health’s cardiac amyloidosis care team, discusses the two most common types of transthyretin (TTR) amyloidosis: hereditary and wild-type. He details how ATTR cardiomyopathy amyloidosis presents and manifests itself to impair the heart. Dr. Shah lists clinical clues, “red flags,” and biomarkers which can raise suspicion of the presence of amyloidosis. Next he discusses insights that can be gained from echocardiograms, electrocardiograms, and cardiac MRIs and how they offer possible indicators of the disease presence. Once amyloidosis is suspected, definitive diagnosis testing is next.  See Part II: “Clinical Signs that Suggest Transthyretin Amyloidosis: Non-cardiac Clues” for more information.

Bicep Bunching & Amyloidosis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Often called “Popeye Deformity,” bicep bunching is visible when the patient flexes their arm, giving the appearance of Popeye-like arms. While it is the result of a torn tendon, it can be a leading indicator of more serious issues.

 

WHAT IS IT?

When the bicep tendon is ruptured, patients develop a bunching of the biceps upon flexion of the arm against gentle resistance. Tendon ruptures occur largely in the dominant arm of each patient, with one-quarter of patients developing ruptures in both arms. Interestingly, of those who had a rupture, 37.8% didn’t know it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below watch a video from The Lancet showing what bicep bunching looks like.

 

WHAT DOES IT POTENTIALLY INDICATE?

Two things.

1.  Bicep bunching may be a marker for ATTRwt. According to MedPage Today, spontaneous ruptures of the distal biceps tendon may be a marker of wild-type transthyretin (TTR) cardiac amyloidosis, a single-center study found. The presentation of a tendon rupture, an easily elicited diagnostic sign, in a patient with HFpEF should raise suspicion for wild-type TTR cardiac amyloidosis.

The picture below (Source: JAMA September 12, 2017 Volume 318, Number 10) offers examples of ruptured biceps tendon in two patients with biopsy-proven ATTRwt Cardiac Amyloidosis. ATTRwt indicates wild-type transthyretin amyloidosis. Patient 1 with prior rupture of the biceps tendon and bunching of the biceps with flexion. Patient 2 with acute rupture of the biceps tendon in the left arm; the tendon rupture occurred with trivial trauma, five years after Cardiac Amyloidosis diagnosis.

2.  ATTRwt may contribute to heart failure. Wild-type transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTRwt) is increasingly recognized as an important cause of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF).

 

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

Bicep bunching may be a marker of wild-type transthyretin (TTR) cardiac amyloidosis, potentially giving physicians an easy way to determine the underlying cause of heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) in some patients. Those who were aware, reported that the distal biceps tendon ruptured approximately five years prior to heart failure diagnosis, thus perhaps offering a leading insight.

In addition, early diagnosis of wild-type TTR cardiac amyloidosis (ATTRwt) is important because treatments are now available to slow, if not halt, disease progression. Unfortunately, the diagnosis of ATTRwt is often not considered in bicep bunching cases due to the perceived rarity of the disease.

“The clinical importance [of this study] is that the detection of a ruptured distal biceps tendon may be a clue for the diagnosis of wild-type TTR amyloidosis as the cause for heart failure. This diagnosis is often overlooked in clinical practice, so this relatively simple evaluation could increase detection of the disease,” said Stuart Katz, MD, of NYU Langone Health. “Enhanced detection could lead to better treatment.”

 

EXPERT INSIGHTS VIDEO ON MUSCULOSKELETAL MANIFESTATIONS

Dr. Shari Liberman, a hand and upper extremities surgeon from Houston Methodist Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, discussed six orthopedic manifestations and their pathology as it relates to systemic amyloidosis. Published studies, coupled with her experience, has led to a belief that these manifestations can offer important evidence of amyloidosis. She concludes with thoughts regarding an orthopedic differential and biopsy considerations for each of these manifestations.

 

Sources ———————————————————————————————————————
https://www.healthline.com/health/popeye-deformity
https://www.medpagetoday.com/cardiology/chf/67850
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5818850/
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319657750_Association_Between_Ruptured_Distal_Biceps_Tendon_and_Wild-Type_Transthyretin_Cardiac_Amyloidosis
https://www.shoulderdoc.co.uk/article/721
https://www.thelancet.com/doi/story/10.1016/vid.2019.02.26.107679
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fHXu_0IZ3vU

Expert Insights: Why is amyloidosis so often misdiagnosed?

Dr. Angela Dispenzieri from the Mayo Clinic discusses why amyloidosis is often misdiagnosed. The complexity of the disease and commonality of symptoms are two of the reasons she examines. In addition, she offers guidance on appropriate diagnostic pathways.

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