Why is my patient with systemic amyloidosis at higher risk of bleeding?

The major mechanism of bleeding tendency in primary systemic amyloidosis (AL) appears to revolve around amyloid deposit infiltration of the vasculature and musculature, leading to amyloid angiopathy, fragility, impaired vasoconstriction, tears and hemorrhage. 1,2 Other potential mechanisms include:

  • Presence of plasma inhibitors of fibrinogen conversion to fibrin
  • Deficiencies of factor X, IX and V due to their affinity for amyloid substance
  • Presence of circulating heparin-like anticoagulants
  • Uremic platelet dysfunction in the presence of renal involvement

In a study involving 36 patients with AL, ~30% had bleeding symptoms with alterations of 1 or more clotting tests found in ~85%: prolonged prothrombin time (PT) ratio (22%), activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) (65%) and thrombin time (85%).

Clinical manifestations of amyloidosis related to its bleeding diathesis include petechiae, ecchymoses, purpura (“raccoon eyes when periorbital), uncontrollable epistaxis, gingival bleeding, and gastrointestinal bleed or submucosal hematomas. 1-6

Due to its convenience and relative safety, a biopsy of abdominal fat or minor salivary glands is often initially performed for definitive diagnosis of amyloidosis, followed by biopsy of specific organs (eg, kidney, liver), if needed. 3,6

Due to the potential risk of bleeding complications, transjugular liver biopsy is preferred over percutaneous approach. This is because the liver capsule is not perforated with transjugular liver biopsy and if bleeding occurs, the blood returns directly into the venous system rather than into the peritoneum. 7-8 

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that AL amyloidosis is the most common type of systemic amyloidosis in western countries? This is because the incidence of the other major type of amyloidosis (AA), often related to chronic infections or inflammatory diseases, has been dropping in these countries.3

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  1. Gamba G, Montani N, Anesi E, et al. Clotting alterations in primary systemic amyloidosis. Haematologica 2000;85:289-92. https://moh-it.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/clotting-alterations-in-primary-systemic-amyloidosis
  2. Marconcini LAL, Stewart FM, Sonntag L, et al. AL amyloidosis complicated by persistent oral bleeding. Case Reports in Hematology 2015, Article ID 981346. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/crihem/2015/981346/
  3. Desport E, Bridoux F, Sirac C, et al. AL Amyloidosis. Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases 2012, 7:54. https://ojrd.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1750-1172-7-54
  4. Yoshii S, Mabe K, Nosho K, et al. Submucosal hematoma is a highly suggestive finding for amyloid light-chain amyloidosis: Two case reports. W J Gastroenterol 2012;4:434-37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23125904
  5. Kon T, Nakagawa N, Yoshikawa F, et al. Systemic immunoglobulin light-chain amyloidosis presenting hematochezia as the initial symptoms. Clin J Gastroenterol 2016;9:243. http://europepmc.org/article/med/27318996
  6. Petre S, Shah IA, Gilani N. Review article:gastrointestinal amyloidosis-clinical features, diagnosis and therapy. Alim Pharmacol Ther 2008;27:1006-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18363891
  7. Grant A, Neuberger J. Guidelines on the use of liver biopsy in clinical practice. Gut 1999;45(Suppl IV):IV1-IV11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10485854
  8. Dohan A, Guerrache Y, Boudiaf M, et al. Transjugular liver biopsy: Indications, technique and results. Diagnostic and Interventional Imaging 2014;95:11-15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24007769
Why is my patient with systemic amyloidosis at higher risk of bleeding?

What is the significance of Howell-Jolly bodies in the peripheral smear of my patient with a spleen who presents with pneumonia?

Howell-Jolly bodies (HJBs, Figure) are often indicative of asplenia (either post-splenectomy or congenital absence) or hyposplenism associated with a variety of conditions, including  sickle cell disease, autoimmune disorders, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease (particularly ulcerative colitis), HIV, cirrhosis, primary pulmonary hypertension, splenic irradiation, amyloidosis, sarcoidosis, bone marrow transplantation, and high-dose corticosteroid therapy1-4.

Patients with pneumonia and HJBs on peripheral smear may be hyposplenic and at risk of potentially serious infections, predominantly caused by encapsulated bacteria eg, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Neisseria meningitidis3.  Such patients should be immunized against these organisms, including sequential receipt of both conjugated and polysaccharide pneumococcal vaccines3,5.

HJBs are nuclear remnants in circulating mature red blood cells which are usually pitted by the spleen under normal physiological conditions. 

Final Fun Pearl:  Did you know that  HJBs were named after Henry Howell, an American physiologist who pioneered the use of heparin as an anti-coagulant and Justin Jolly, a French hematologist who was among the first to film mitotic activity in cells?


Figure. Howell-Jolly body in an RBC. Photo courtesy of Michael S. Abers, MD

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  1. Di Sabatino, A, Carsetti R, Corazza G. Post-splenectomy and hyposplenic states. Lancet 2011;378:86–97. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21474172
  2. Brousse, V, Buffet P, Rees D. The spleen and sickle cell disease: the sick(led) spleen. Br J Haematol 2014;166: 165–176. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24862308
  3. Mathew H, Dittus C, Malek A, Negroiu A. Howell-Jolly bodies on peripheral smear leading to the diagnosis of congenital hyposplenism in a patient with septic shock. Clin Case Rep 2015;3:714-717. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4551333
  4. Ryan FP, Smart RC, Holdsworth CD, et al. Hyposplenism in inflammatory bowel disease 1978;19:50-55. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/624506
  5. Kuchar E, Miśkiewicz K , Karlikowska M. A review of guidance on immunization in persons with defective or deficient splenic function. Br J Haematol 2015; 171:683-94.  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjh.13660/full

Contributed by Katarzyna Orlewska, Medical Student, Warszawski Uniwersytet Medyczny, Poland

What is the significance of Howell-Jolly bodies in the peripheral smear of my patient with a spleen who presents with pneumonia?