Amyloidosis is a serious disorder of the immune system and bone marrow where the bone marrow creates useless antibodies, which cannot be disposed of and leave behind waste products called amyloids. These amyloid proteins instead collect in the body's organs, primarily the heart, lungs, liver and kidney, and slowly poison the organs.
It is unknown what causes amyloidosis, but it does run in families and it can be the result of other diseases of the immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Amyloidosis is particularly difficult to diagnose, and is usually the result of eliminating the other possible causes for the symptoms being suffered by the patient. As such, it is a zebra rather than a horse. It can be confirmed with tests, but this requires a biopsy of the fat pad above the groin which everyone has and bone marrow biopsy. Depending on which organs are effected, they may also be biopsied.
Amyloidosis is also difficult to treat. If the disease is caused by an autoimmune disorder, treating the underlying disorder will usually cure the amyloidosis. However, in other cases, chemotherapy is the only course of action. It can be put into remission with a bone marrow transplant, but only if there is a compatible donor. It is possible to be your own bone marrow donor, this is done by a series of shots to increase the amount of cells being produced which then 'flow' over into your blood stream as immature cells. These cells are then separated through apheresis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apheresis) and collected. Once enough are collected (1 - 2 million), you are given high dose chemo which kills all your bone marrow. Then, the collected cells are put back into your blood through IV. Hopefully, after 30 days or so, your bone marrow is back to close to normal its normal function. The other alternative is about a year of chemo and steroids.
Secondary and Heredity are the most common with AL being the most common. AL is not curable, but is treatable, quick diagnosis is critical. Due to the symptoms and that fact that it is a very uncommon disease, it is not uncommon to go years before a diagnosis is made. Secondary is usually the symptom/side effect of another disease such as a chronic infection of inflammatory disease, rheumatoid arthritis is a common cause. The Hereditary version is one that can be passed to children, as the name implies.
There is a relationship with multiple myeloma, a portion of people have both, but the treatments are similar. The problem with amyloidosis is that the symptoms are usually vague and are usually related to other diseases first. Symptoms such as swelling of the ankles and legs, weakness, weight loss, shortness of breath, numbness or tingling in feet and hands, diarrhea, enlarged tongue, skin changes, frothy urine, difficulty swallowing and irregular heartbeat are just some of the symptoms. Many of the symptoms are related to the organ(s) which is (are) being affected.