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?

My patient with brain tumor suffered a myocardial infarction (MI) just before having a diagnostic brain surgery. Could the tumor have placed him at higher risk of a coronary event?

Yes! Arterial thromboembolism—just as venous thromboembolism— is more common in patients with cancer.

In a large 2017 epidemiologic study involving patients 66 years of age or older, the 6-month cumulative incidence of MI was nearly 3-fold higher in newly-diagnosed cancer patients compared to controls, with the excess risk resolving by 1 year. 1 These findings were similar to a previous report involving patients with newly-diagnosed cancer, although in that study the overall coronary heart disease risk remained slightly elevated even after 10 years. 2

In addition, the incidence of coronary events and unstable ischemic heart disease during the 2 year period prior to the diagnosis of cancer is 2-fold higher among cancer patients suggesting that ischemic heart disease may be precipitated by occult cancer. 3

The association of cancer and thromboembolic coronary events may be explained through several mechanisms, including development of a prothrombotic or hypercoagulable state through acute phase reactants, abnormal fibrinolytic activity and increased activation of platelets which are also significantly involved in the pathophysiology of acute coronary syndrome (ACS). 4 Coronary artery embolism from cancer-related marantic endocarditis may also occur.5

More specific to our case, primary brain tumors may be associated with a hypercoagulable state through expression of potent procoagulants such as tissue factor and tissue factor containing microparticles, with a subset producing carbon monoxide, another procoagulant. 6

So our patient’s MI prior to his surgery for brain tumor diagnosis might have been more than a pure coincidence!

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that cancer-related prothrombotic state, also known as  “Trousseau’s syndrome” was first described in 1865 by Armand Trousseau, a French physician who diagnosed the same in himself and died of gastric cancer with thrombotic complications just 2 years later? 7,8


  1. Navi BB, Reinder AS, Kamel H, et al. Risk of arterial thromboembolism in patients with cancer. JACC 2017;70:926-38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28818202
  2. Zoller B, Ji Jianguang, Sundquist J, et al. Risk of coronary heart disease in patients with cancer: A nationwide follow-up study from Sweden. Eur J Cancer 2012;48:121-128. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22023886
  3. Naschitz JE, Yeshurun D, Abrahamson J, et al. Ischemic heart disease precipitated by occult cancer. Cancer 1992;69:2712-20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1571902
  4. Lee EC, Cameron SJ. Cancer and thrombotic risk: the platelet paradigm. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine 2017;4:1-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29164134
  5. Lee V, Gilbert JD, Byard RW. Marantic endocarditis-A not so benign entity. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine 2012;19:312-15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22847046
  6. Nielsen VG, Lemole GM, Matika RW, et al. Brain tumors enhance plasmatic coagulation: the role of hemeoxygenase-1. Anesth Analg 2014;118919-24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24413553
  7. Thalin C, Blomgren B, Mobarrez F, et al. Trousseau’s syndrome, a previously unrecognized condition in acute ischemic stroke associated with myocardial injury. Journal of Investigative Medicine High Impact Case Reports.2014. DOI:10.1177/2324709614539283. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26425612
  8. Samuels MA, King MA, Balis U. CPC, Case 31-2002. N Engl J Med 2002;347:1187-94. https://www.nejm.org/doi/pdf/10.1056/NEJMcpc020117?articleTools=true

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My patient with brain tumor suffered a myocardial infarction (MI) just before having a diagnostic brain surgery. Could the tumor have placed him at higher risk of a coronary event?

Does erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) have diagnostic utility in my patient with chronic renal failure?

Short answer: often not! This is because most studies have shown frequently high ESR’s in stable “uninflamed” patients with chronic renal failure (CRF) (including those on dialysis) at levels often associated with infection, connective tissue disease, or malignancy. 1-4  

In fact, in a study involving patients with CRF, 57% of patients had markedly elevated ESR (greater than 60 mm/h), with 20% having ESR greater than 100 mm/h; type or duration of dialysis had no significant effect on ESR levels.1 Another study reported a specificity for abnormal ESR of only 35% for commonly considered inflammatory conditions (eg, infections or malignancy) among patients with CRF. 2

But is it the chronic inflammation in diseased kidneys or the uremic environment that elevates ESR? A cool study compared ESR in CRF in patients who had undergone bilateral nephrectomies with those with retained kidneys and found no significant difference in the ESR between the 2 groups. 4  So it looks like it’s the uremic environment, not diseased kidneys themselves that result in elevated ESR in these patients.

The mechanism behind these observations seem to reside entirely within the patients’ plasma, not the erythrocytes. Within the plasma, fibrinogen (not gammaglobulins) seem to be the most likely factor explaining elevated ESR among patients with CRF. 1,2

Bonus pearl:  Did you know that ESR is nearly 100 years old, first described in 1921? 5


  1. Barthon J, Graves J, Jens P, et al. The erythrocyte sedimentation rate in end-stage renal failure. Am J Kidney Dis 1987;10: 34-40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3605082
  2. Shusterman N, Morrison G, Singer I. The erythrocyte sedimentation rate and chronic renal failure. Ann Intern Med 1986;105:801. http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/700910
  3. Arik N, Bedir A, Gunaydin M, et al. Do erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein levels have diagnostic usefulness in patients with renal failure? Nephron 2000;86:224. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11015011
  4. Warner DM, George CRP. Erythrocyte sedimentation rate and related factors in end-stage renal failure. Nephron 1991;57:248. https://www.karger.com/Article/PDF/186266
  5. Fahraeus R. The suspension stability of the blood. Acta Med Scan 1921;55:70-92. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.0954-6820.1921.tb15200.x


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Does erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) have diagnostic utility in my patient with chronic renal failure?