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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

Patient Insights: Best kept secret

Our patient speakers at the Amyloidosis Speakers Bureau are powerful educators and offer compelling insights.

Have a listen to this brief clip from Ozzie on his discovery of the ‘best kept secret’ as it pertains to diagnosing amyloidosis – carpal tunnel syndrome.

Patient Insights: Biopsy the CTR tissue!

Our patient speakers at the Amyloidosis Speakers Bureau are powerful educators and offer compelling insights.

Have a listen to this brief clip from Linda with thoughts on how orthopedic hand surgeons can be on the front line of diagnosis through CTR tissue biopsy.

Carpal Tunnel & Amyloidosis – An Update

The connection between carpal tunnel and amyloidosis is one that is already established. In fact, carpal tunnel syndrome is one of many potential symptoms of amyloidosis, but it is a symptom that tends to present early. It is not uncommon to hear patients started experiencing carpal tunnel five to ten years before they were diagnosed with amyloidosis.


Clinicians are becoming aware of this connection and are starting to investigate the connection. Two studies have been published that investigate the connection between carpal tunnel and amyloidosis.

The first study from 2018 was a “prospective, cross-sectional, multidisciplinary study of consecutive men age ≥ 50 years and women ≥ 60 years undergoing carpal tunnel release surgery. Biopsy specimens of tenosynovial tissue were obtained and stained with Congo red.”3 Of the patients that were eligible for Congo red staining (n=98), a total of 10 came back positive for amyloidosis.3 That is a hit rate of just over 10%.

In a larger second study from 2022, a total of 185 patients underwent carpal tunnel release surgery, where 54 biopsies confirmed evidence of amyloidosis with Congo red staining.1 That is a hit rate of 29%.

The results of these studies are powerful and provide an opportunity to change the trajectory of diagnosing amyloidosis, particularly doing so much earlier. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, carpal tunnel release surgery is the second most common type of surgery, performed over 230,000 times every year.4


“Since carpal tunnel syndrome is often one of the earliest signs of underlying amyloidosis, those with undiagnosed disease could greatly benefit from tissue biopsies at the time of surgery. A positive biopsy result could initiate the road to disease stabilization and hopefully future cures, avoiding the all-too-often rapid decline of health before final recognition. Bringing the surgeon into the arena of amyloidosis diagnosis and care broadens the net for catching this disease early and prepares the surgeon as a team-player for future medical support.”

Charles Williams Sr., MD

Retired Orthopedic Surgeon



Screening for amyloidosis in carpal tunnel release surgery can be a low-cost method of detecting amyloidosis that should be considered.2

Most importantly, identifying and diagnosing amyloidosis early has the potential to significantly improve patient outcomes and substantially alter the course of disease.

Truly life changing.

P.S. Click here to read our previous post on Carpal Tunnel & Amyloidosis



  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35469694/
  2. https://consultqd.clevelandclinic.org/cardiac-amyloidosis-look-to-the-wrist-for-an-early-diagnostic-clue/
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0735109718381634?via%3Dihub
  4. https://www.orthoarlington.com/contents/patient-info/conditions-procedures/11-astounding-carpal-tunnel-statistics
  5. https://www.verywellhealth.com/open-surgery-or-endoscopic-carpal-tunnel-surgery-4083069
  6. https://mailchi.mp/ea0a0bb441eb/carpal-tunnel-amyloidosis

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