The diagnostic challenges of cardiac amyloidosis: A practical approach to the two main types

Cindy Varga, Sharmila Dorbala, Isabelle Lousada, Michael J. Polydefkis, Ashutosh Wechalekar, Mathew S. Maurer, Raymond L. Comenzo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Systemic amyloidosis of the immunoglobulin light-chain (AL) or transthyretin type (ATTR) is a multisystem protein deposition disease that often involves the heart. Delays in diagnosis are very common and can have detrimental consequences on patient outcomes. Because both major types can now be distinguished quickly and treated effectively, clear approaches are required. There have been advances in radioisotope scintigraphy, monoclonal protein testing and mass spectrometry for typing that need coordinated application. We have entered an era in which rapid diagnosis and ready therapy will save lives, therefore we must develop coherent approaches to this multisystem disease. The prognosis for AL has improved significantly with the incorporation of novel agents such as proteasome inhibitors, immunomodulators and monoclonal antibodies against plasma cells. Multiple independent studies have demonstrated the efficacy of these agents in AL, though tolerability can become an issue with dose reductions required in many cases. Median overall survival for patients achieving complete responses after stem cell transplant and consolidation exceeds a decade. The prognosis for ATTR, both age-related wild-type (ATTRwt) and hereditary due to variants of transthyretin (ATTRv), has improved as well due to the availability of the stabilizer tafamidis and the RNA-interference agents patisiran and inotersen. In both AL and ATTR, with elimination or suppression of the pathologic amyloid-forming protein, symptomatic involvement of the heart, kidneys and peripheral nervous system can improve as well. In this review, we present the current state of diagnosing and treating the two major types of systemic amyloidosis, emphasizing the coherent clinical application of the new tools and treatments. Implementation of the approaches we provide will enable rapid identification of amyloid type and rational selection of therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100720
JournalBlood Reviews
StatePublished - Jan 2021


  • Amyloidosis
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Light chains
  • Monoclonal gammopathy
  • Scintigraphy
  • Transthyretin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology


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