Cardiac Amyloidosis Treatment: Understanding Amyloid Deposits in the Heart

    cardiac amyloidosis treatment

    In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, symptoms like fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the legs can often be dismissed as mere signs of stress or aging. These seemingly innocuous symptoms, however, could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition, such as heart disease.

    The global burden of heart disease has been on a steady rise, with an estimated 17.9 million deaths in 2019 alone, accounting for 32% of all global deaths. This surge in heart disease prevalence can be attributed to various factors, including unhealthy lifestyle choices, poor diet, lack of physical activity, and genetic predispositions. One specific heart condition that is gaining increased attention in the medical community is cardiac amyloidosis.

    Understanding Cardiac Amyloidosis

    Cardiac amyloidosis, often referred to as “stiff heart syndrome,” is a rare but serious cardiac condition. This disease is distinguished by an abnormal accumulation of proteins known as amyloids in heart tissue. These amyloid proteins are misfolded, causing them to aggregate and form deposits in the heart. These deposits can interfere with the normal functioning of the heart over time, resulting in a variety of symptoms.

    Patients suffering from cardiac amyloidosis may experience shortness of breath, palpitations, lightheadedness, and chest pain. These symptoms occur because the amyloid deposits make the heart walls stiff, reducing their ability to fill with blood properly. As a result, the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body, resulting in the aforementioned symptoms.

    Types of Cardiac Amyloidosis

    There are two types of cardiac amyloidosis: light chain amyloidosis (AL) and transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTR). 

    Light Chain Amyloidosis

    AL amyloidosis is caused by the overproduction of light chain proteins by plasma cells in the bone marrow. These proteins have the ability to deposit in any organ of the body, including the heart.

    Transthyretin Amyloidosis

    ATTR amyloidosis, on the other hand, is caused by the liver producing a mutated form of the protein transthyretin, which can also accumulate in the heart. 

    There are two forms of ATTR amyloidosis: hereditary ATTR (hATTR), which is passed down through families, and wild-type ATTR (wtATTR), which occurs spontaneously, usually affecting older adults.

    Recent Advances in Cardiac Amyloidosis Treatment

    Treatment for cardiac amyloidosis has evolved significantly over the years, thanks to advancements in medical research. The primary goal of these treatments is to reduce amyloid protein production and manage the symptoms that result.

    For AL amyloidosis, the focus is on halting the overproduction of light chain proteins from the bone marrow. This is often achieved through:


    Drugs such as melphalan and dexamethasone are used to kill the abnormal plasma cells that produce the excess light chains.

    Immunomodulatory drugs

    These medications, including lenalidomide and pomalidomide, help regulate the immune system to reduce the production of light chains.

    Proteasome inhibitors

    Drugs like bortezomib work by blocking the action of proteasomes, thereby preventing the breakdown of abnormal proteins in cells.

    Autologous stem cell transplant

    In some cases, particularly for younger patients with limited organ involvement, high-dose chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant may be considered. In contrast, treatment for ATTR amyloidosis aims to stabilize the TTR protein or reduce its production. This can be achieved through:

    TTR stabilizers

    Medications like tafamidis and diflunisal work by stabilizing the TTR protein, preventing it from breaking apart and forming amyloids.

    TTR silencers

    Drugs such as patisiran and inotersen decrease the production of TTR protein by the liver.

    Organ transplant

    In severe cases, a liver or heart transplant may be necessary.

    Alongside these medical treatments, adopting a holistic approach can also prove beneficial. This includes lifestyle modifications such as maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular, moderate exercise, and avoiding alcohol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can worsen the condition.

    Common Questions About Cardiac Amyloidosis

    Cardiac amyloidosis, while rare, is a serious condition that often raises many questions among patients and their families. Let’s address some of these common queries.

    Is Cardiac Amyloidosis Hereditary?

    Yes and no. It depends on the type of cardiac amyloidosis. Transthyretin amyloidosis (ATTR) can be hereditary (hATTR), passed down through families due to specific genetic mutations. However, the light chain amyloidosis (AL) is not hereditary.

    How Long Can One Live with Cardiac Amyloidosis?

    The prognosis for cardiac amyloidosis can vary widely depending on several factors, including the type of amyloidosis, the stage at diagnosis, the organs involved, and the patient’s overall health

    For AL amyloidosis, survival rates have significantly improved over the years with advancements in treatment, with some studies citing a median survival of approximately 3 to 4 years from diagnosis. In contrast, individuals with ATTR amyloidosis generally have a more favorable prognosis, with survival often extending beyond five years.

    It is important to remember that these are averages, and that individual experiences can vary greatly. Early detection and treatment can significantly increase life expectancy.

    Can Cardiac Amyloidosis be Cured?

    While there is currently no cure for cardiac amyloidosis, treatments can help manage symptoms, slow disease progression, and improve quality of life. The approach to treatment will be determined by the type of amyloidosis and the extent of organ involvement.

    Personalized Care and Ongoing Management for Cardiac Amyloidosis

    To summarize, cardiac amyloidosis is a complex and multifaceted disease that necessitates a comprehensive and personalized approach to treatment. Given the variability in the types of amyloidosis and the organs affected, treatment plans are tailored to the individual’s specific needs and overall health status.

    Key elements of this personalized care include carefully selected treatments aimed at slowing the disease’s progression, managing symptoms, and improving the patient’s quality of life. Whether it’s chemotherapy for AL amyloidosis or TTR stabilizers for ATTR amyloidosis, each treatment plan is meticulously designed to meet the patient’s unique needs.

    However, treatment alone is not enough. Regular follow-ups are a crucial component of care for patients with cardiac amyloidosis. These visits allow healthcare providers to monitor the disease’s progression, adjust treatments as necessary, and address any new or worsening symptoms promptly.

    Furthermore, symptom management is crucial in improving the patient’s quality of life. This may involve interventions to alleviate shortness of breath, manage pain, improve mobility, and provide psychological support.

    In the end, while cardiac amyloidosis is a serious and often daunting condition, it’s important to remember that medical advancements continue to improve the prognosis and quality of life for patients. With personalized care, regular follow-ups, and effective symptom management, patients can navigate their journey with cardiac amyloidosis more confidently and comfortably.