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Amyloidosis: A hidden cause of heart failure that’s often underdiagnosed

Dr. Rodney Falk, director of the Cardiac Amyloidosis Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, checks patient data with Dr. Cristina Quarta.
Dr. Rodney Falk, director of the Cardiac Amyloidosis Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, checks patient data with Dr. Cristina Quarta.Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

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Amyloidosis in the heart is a rare condition affecting an estimated 10,000 Americans. But the true incidence could be far higher since cardiologists often mistake it for garden-variety heart failure with no known cause. “It’s potentially a far more common condition disorder than it appears to be,” said Dr. Rodney Falk, director of the Brigham’s cardiac amyloidosis program, especially in African Americans who have a 4 percent likelihood of carrying a genetic mutation for the condition.

Falk estimates that 10 to 15 percent of blacks diagnosed with heart failure have signs of amyloidosis — such as an enlarged heart on an imaging test — and should be getting a genetic test to see if they have the mutation.

“It’s a disease that’s potentially treatable,” Falk said, “but if it’s not caught early enough, it will kill you.”

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