Common Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma

What to Watch out for in Multiple Myeloma

Multiple myeloma can lead to bone fractures.
Multiple myeloma can lead to bone fractures. ultura RM Exclusive/PhotoStock-Israel/Getty Images

When the initial symptoms of multiple myeloma begin to appear, they often go unnoticed because they are vague and non-specific. Symptoms are similar to those of other, less serious illnesses and conditions, often causing a delay in diagnosis. Also, some people with multiple myeloma never experience any symptoms.

Summary of Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma

The signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma, like bone pain, fatigue, and numbness and tingling, can be described as complications of the disease.

While a combination of these symptoms can suggest multiple myeloma, the actual diagnosis of multiple myeloma is detected though blood testing and other medical tests.

Bone Pain and Bone Loss/Fractures

Bone pain is a commonly experienced symptom of multiple myeloma. Low back pain is frequent, but pain can occur in other areas, like ribs, hips, and the skull. Bone pain can be caused by other non-malignant conditions, so it isn't exactly an initial red flag for multiple myeloma among doctors.

Bone loss, called osteoporosis, and unexplained fractures are also a symptom of multiple myeloma. The spine, ribs, and pelvis are common sites of bone breaks, or fractures, caused by bone weakening due to multiple myeloma.

Elevated Calcium Levels in the Blood

Elevated levels of calcium in the blood, termed hypercalcemia, is also a sign of multiple myeloma. As myeloma cells break down bone, calcium is released into the bloodstream.

Hypercalcemia can cause:

  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue/weakness
  • excessive thirst/urination
  • constipation
  • mental confusion
  • kidney failure

Anemia and Multiple Myeloma

As myeloma cells begin to replace red blood cells in the bone marrow, crowding out normal cells, RBCs begin to decrease. When the amount of red blood cells decreases in the body, the resulting condition is anemia.

It can cause paleness, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

Other blood cell counts may similarly be affected by multiple myeloma, including infection-fighting cells, called white blood cells, and platelets, which are involved in the clotting process. A low number of white blood cells can make a person prone to infections, especially pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and kidney infections. A low number of platelets can predispose a person to bleeding.

Kidney Failure

High levels of calcium and excess myeloma proteins in the blood are filtered through the kidneys, causing damage. As kidneys begin to fail, they lose their ability to regulate fluids and electrolytes in the body and remove waste products from the body. Swelling, especially in the legs, is a symptom of kidney failure, along with weakness and itching. Kidney failure tends to occur most often in people with advanced cases of multiple myeloma.

Hyperviscosity

Thickened blood, or hyperviscosity, can be a sign of multiple myeloma.

In hyperviscosity, the blood is resistant to flow. The excessive amounts of proteins made by cancerous plasma cells are the cause of hyperviscosity in people with multiple myeloma. People who suffer from hyperviscosity syndrome may experience:

  • nose bleeds
  • blurred vision
  • numbing or tingling sensation in arms or legs
  • heart failure

Unexplained Weight Loss

While losing weight without effort may be welcomed by many, it can be a symptom of many types of cancer, including multiple myeloma.

Numbness and Tingling Sensations

When the bones of the spine are weakened by multiple myeloma, they can collapse onto spinal nerves and compress them. This is called spinal cord compression and is a medical emergency.

Numbness, tingling, and pain of the back and arms and legs are common effects of spinal cord compression. Loss of control of the bowel and bladder may also occur.

What Should I Do If I Have These Symptoms

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, check in with your doctor. Multiple myeloma is a complex disease, and its symptoms mimic many other health conditions.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2015). Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma. Retrieved December 31st 2015.

US National Library of Medicine. PubMed Health. About Multiple Myeloma. Retrieved December 31st 2015.

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