Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that occurs when plasma cells become cancerous and produce plasmacytoma. Plasmacytomas are tumors, which typically form in the bone. Multiple myeloma occurs when patients have more than one plasmacytoma. Timely treatment is necessary, so it is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of this disease. There is no cure for multiple myeloma, but the prognosis for patients who catch this cancer in the early stages is relatively optimistic. If you notice any of these ten signs, you should seek medical care and consult with your doctor about whether further testing may be necessary.
Patients who have multiple myeloma may first notice that something is wrong when their bones begin to ache. This pain happens because plasmacytomas typically form within the bone, which can erode the bone over time. Eventually, the bone will become weaker and more prone to injury. The pain may occur in a variety of locations on the body, but the most common are the back, hips, and skull. If you have a persistent backache or your bones feel tender or painful for no reason, you should see a doctor as soon as possible to determine the cause of the issue.
Another sign of multiple myeloma is anemia. Anemia is a condition in which patients may feel tired or easily fatigued due to abnormalities in their bloodstream. While there are many causes for anemia, in this case, it is caused by a decreased production of red blood cells. People who have anemia may feel lightheaded or dizzy at times and may experience general weakness. They also can appear pale and tired and may experience palpitations and shortness of breath. For patients who have not been diagnosed with anemia that suddenly experience these symptoms, it may be a sign of an underlying disease, including multiple myeloma.
If you have developed multiple myeloma, you may experience thrombocytopenia as well, which is the term for having a low platelet count. Platelets, also called thrombocytes, are the cells responsible for forming blood clots. If your platelet count is abnormally low, your blood cannot clot properly, and even small wounds can result in excessive bleeding. In addition to cuts that bleed for longer than usual, patients experiencing thrombocytopenia may have nosebleeds, blood in the urine, and heavy menstruation. You may also notice petechia, which are small, reddish, pinprick-sized dots that form a rash on the skin. When combined with other signs of multiple myeloma, this may indicate you need to see your doctor.
In addition to bone pain, you may notice that your bones have become weakened and brittle. This sign of multiple myeloma is called osteoporosis, and it happens when plasmacytomas erode the bone and cause it to become more fragile. If you have osteoporosis, you may find that you fracture bones more easily. Even mild injuries, like stumbling on stairs, can cause broken bones. Typically, osteoporosis affects older adults, so if you are a younger adult who notices weakening or painful bones that break easily, it may be a sign of multiple myeloma or another serious condition.
Because cancer is caused by cell processes, it can use up a lot of the body's energy. In the case of multiple myeloma, you may already feel tired due to reduced red blood cell count or anemia. Pain in your back or other bones may keep you awake at night, or prevent you from getting quality sleep. Other signs and symptoms of the disease can impact your diet, as well. Together, these factors may leave you feeling fatigued and as if you have no energy. You may even feel confused as if your mind is "foggy." This could be a sign of multiple myeloma.
It may be harder to eat and enjoy food while experiencing multiple myeloma. Patients with this condition may find themselves with a loss of appetite and nausea, even before treatment begins. This is due to an increase of calcium in the blood, which is typical of many types of cancer. If you are experiencing extreme pain, it may also decrease your appetite. If you notice that your appetite has disappeared or feel as though you are unable to keep food down due to nausea, you should seek medical care. Over time, this can cause weight loss, which may lead to additional health concerns down the road.
Depending on where the plasmacytomas are located, you may experience localized muscle pain, numbness or even weakness. If the tumors are located near the spine, it may cause these same issues in other parts of your body as well. Tumors can compress nerves, and they can also put pressure on muscles and other tissues in the body. These changes can be very uncomfortable or even painful, especially if the tumor is left untreated and continues to grow. You may also feel a pins-and-needles sensation, or the muscle may seem weaker than usual during use. In some cases, this is one of the first signs that a plasmacytoma or other tumor has formed.
If you suddenly find yourself making extra trips to the bathroom, it could be a sign of multiple myeloma when noticed in combination with other symptoms. Having high levels of calcium in the blood makes patients feel thirstier, and consequently, they consume a lot of liquids. Increased calcium levels can also result in kidney problems. The combination of these factors can increase how often you need to use the bathroom. Calcium levels play a role in quite a few other bodily functions as well and can cause a host of other issues, including dehydration and abdominal pain.
Patients with multiple myeloma may notice an increase in infections. These may include pneumonia and other common infections. However, if you have multiple myeloma, you may be at higher risk for complications. You are more likely to get severe infections that do not respond immediately to treatment, and you are also more liable to see a recurrence of the infection after it is initially resolved. Because it weakens your immune system, cancer makes it difficult for your body to fight back against harmful bacteria. Healthy people are usually able to bounce back from most infections, especially with treatment quickly, but that is not the case with multiple myeloma patients.
One complication that may occur in someone who has developed multiple myeloma is hyperviscosity, due to an increase in protein in the blood. This occurs when the blood thickens, potentially causing clots. It slows down the flow of blood, which decreases the amount of oxygen your brain is receiving. That can lead to mental symptoms like confusion, as well as the signs of a stroke. These include weakness on one side of the body, dizziness, and slurred speech. Any time you experience stroke-like symptoms, you should immediately seek medical care. A doctor can determine whether multiple myeloma or something else is causing your symptoms.
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