Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow. Unrestrained production of plasma cells results in toxic proteins that damage the kidneys. The condition most often affects people over the age of 60 and is more common in African-Americans. The cause of the disease is unclear. Early detection is essential for recovery, but unfortunately, multiple myeloma is hard to diagnose because the symptoms vary widely between patients, and are common to many other diseases.
People with multiple myeloma often experience bone problems including pain throughout the chest and back. The legs and arms may also ache, but this is less common. Many also develop osteoporosis, a loss of bone mass that results in bones that break more easily. Even a minor impact from a low height, such as a trip or fall, can result in a fracture. Up to 90% of people with multiple myeloma will develop bone damage from the disease.
Anemia is a low red blood cell count or a lack of hemoglobin. In general, people with this condition experience fatigue and skin pallor. People with multiple myeloma often present with this symptom because the cancer damages the bone marrow, where red blood cells are created. According to the International Myeloma Foundation, 60 to 70% of people with multiple myeloma already have anemia at the time of diagnosis.
People with multiple myeloma tend to feel tired and weak. They often fall sick as more and more cells in the bone marrow are replaced with cancerous ones, and fewer white blood cells that fight infection are produced. They may also feel tired from a low red blood cell count. Eventually, the myeloma cells crowd out the healthy ones. Anyone who experiences chronic fatigue without a clear reason should speak to a doctor and request blood tests.
Weight loss is associated with numerous diseases. Regardless of the cause, extreme and unexpected weight loss should prompt medical attention. In those already diagnosed, weight loss can be traced to the flu-like symptoms cancer causes, which include nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Sickness may also be caused by hypercalcemia, as the bones break down and the calcium within them enters the bloodstream. This condition causes metabolic problems. Plus, people who have multiple myeloma may lose weight from the side effects of the treatment.
Multiple myeloma also causes gastrointestinal issues, which can lead to symptoms and signs such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. These symptoms are not indicative of multiple myeloma alone, however, so when they occur repeatedly prior to a diagnosis, it is important that a doctor begin investigating the cause. In some cases, these symptoms may be due to medications used to treat multiple myeloma rather than the disease itself.
As the immune system weakens, the immune cells must fight harder to combat unwelcome bacteria and viruses. The antibodies produced by the few remaining immune cells are not robust enough to fight infection because of the overwhelming presence of myeloma cells. The body continues to grow tired, which increases susceptibility to infection. People with multiple myeloma often contract various other illnesses and infections.
Kidney problems are also associated with multiple myeloma. The combination of hypercalcemia and increased proteins results in abnormal kidney function. In some individuals, kidney failure may be the first sign of cancer because other symptoms can be attributed to other diseases. If a person experience weakness, confusion, dizziness, and shortness of breath, he or she should see a physician.
The production of malignant plasma cells and abnormal proteins results in a thickening of the blood called hyperviscosity syndrome, and it tends to occur in later stages of the disease. Hyperviscosity can cause bleeding from the nose and mouth. Blurred vision is a related symptom, and these signs can eventually cause severe problems including heart failure.
Because multiple myeloma causes brittle bones, vertebrae fractures can place additional pressure on the nerves and neurological issues can result. Radiculopathy is a neurological condition that can affect the legs, cheeks, and lower back, causing numbness or tingling, pain, and muscle weakness. Plasma cells build up along the spine and put more pressure on the spinal cord, which intensifies the symptoms of radiculopathy, and can also cause a loss of bladder control.
Advanced multiple myeloma can form masses under the skin, which appear as large, purple bumps on the skin's surface. This is due to the accumulation of tumor cells beneath the skin and is usually only seen in the late stages of the disease. Sudden, unexplained rashes should always be examined by a doctor to ensure that they are not a sign of a serious issue.
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