Cerebral amyloid angiopathy – overview

One of Brain Support Network’s mission is to help families with brain donation arrangements.  We’ve seen a few neuropathology reports come back with the term “cerebral amyloid angiopathy” (CAA). This is often seen on reports when the brain donor was diagnosed during life with Lewy body dementia, but no Lewy bodies can be found. We often see it in those with have a history of strokes.

“Angiopathy” means a disease of the blood vessels. The term commonly refers to conditions where small blood vessels are damaged and burst open. 

“Cerebral” refers to the brain.

And “amyloid” refer to the protein amyloid. This is one of the proteins found in Alzheimer’s Disease, by the way. But CAA is not Alzheimer’s.

In CAA, amyloid proteins have accumulated in the walls of blood vessels in the brain. The person with CAA is at high risk of suffering a stroke. And, for unknown reasons, the person with CAA is at high risk of developing dementia.

Probable CAA can be diagnosed during life on the basis of imaging. The diagnosis can be confirmed through a biopsy (while the person is alive) or an autopsy (when the person has died). In the case of a biopsy, a vascular surgeon can take a sample of a blood vessel in the brain, and this sample is studied for signs of amyloid.

Sometimes, CAA is inherited. You would have some sense if it runs in your family by knowing if other relatives have similar symptoms.