Female doctor holding a patients hand
Medically reviewed by
AKF's Medical Advisory Committee
Last updated
March 28, 2022

Amyloidosis (am-il-oyd-OH-sis) causes proteins called amyloids to build up and form clumps inside your organs and tissues, causing damage. These clumps can form in the kidneys, heart, brain, liver and intestines. There are two types of amyloidosis that often affect the kidneys: primary amyloidosis and dialysis-related amyloidosis. Primary amyloidosis can cause kidney disease. Dialysis-related amyloidosis can happen by being on dialysis for a long time.

The two types of amyloidosis that often affect the kidneys are called primary amyloidosis and dialysis-related amyloidosis. Doctors and researchers are not sure what causes primary amyloidosis. Dialysis-related amyloidosis happens to people who have kidney failure and have been on dialysis for a long time. Dialysis does a good job cleaning your blood, but it does not work as well as healthy kidneys. It cannot remove all of a protein called beta-2-microglobulin, so this protein builds up in the blood and forms clumps in organs and tissues.

The most common sign of primary amyloidosis is nephrotic syndrome, which is a group of symptoms that includes:

  • Protein in the urine
  • High levels of fat and cholesterol in the blood
  • Swelling
  • Low levels of protein in the blood

The most common symptoms of dialysis-related amyloidosis are:

  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in bones
  • Numbness or tingling in hands and fingers

If your doctor thinks you might have primary amyloidosis, you might need to have blood and urine tests and a kidney biopsy. If your doctor thinks you might have dialysis-related amyloidosis, you may need blood and urine tests, as well as imaging tests such as X-rays and CT scans.

Both primary and dialysis-related amyloidosis can be treated. Primary amyloidosis can be treated using medicine called chemotherapy. It can also be treated by having a stem cell transplant. Other treatment can help you manage the side effects of primary amyloidosis. Dialysis-related amyloidosis can be treated using medicine, better hemodialysis filters, surgery or a kidney transplant.

More information about primary and dialysis-related amyloidosis is available from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.