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Multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma symptoms

Multiple myeloma is a relatively rare cancer that develops in the bone marrow. As the cancerous plasma cells accumulate in the marrow, they crowd out other healthy blood cells. This may cause several symptoms, such as infection, anemia, bruising and bleeding.

The myeloma cells also increase the activity of cells called osteoclasts (which break down bone) and decrease the activity of osteoblasts (which form new bone), causing the bones to dissolve at a faster rate than they are formed. This may damage and weaken the bones, causing pain and lesions.

Early warning signs of multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma symptoms may develop slowly over time. Often, early-stage multiple myeloma is asymptomatic (displays no symptoms), and symptoms don’t appear until the disease reaches an advanced stage. In some cases, the disease is discovered during a routine blood test or a test to diagnose another condition.

Multiple myeloma symptoms vary for each person. Some common signs include:

  • Bone pain (often in the back or ribs)
  • Unexplained bone fractures (usually in the spine)
  • Fatigue, feeling of weakness
  • Recurrent infections, fevers
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Increased thirst and urination

Related conditions associated with multiple myeloma

In addition to symptoms, multiple myeloma patients may develop one or more of the following conditions:

Low blood counts: In multiple myeloma, malignant cells replace the normal blood-forming cells in the marrow. This may result in anemia (low red blood cell count), which often causes shortness of breath, fatigue or a feeling of weakness; leukopenia (low white blood cell count), which may increase the risk of infections; or thrombocytopenia (low blood platelet count), which may cause easy bruising or bleeding.

Hypercalcemia: As the osteoclasts rapidly dissolve bone tissue, calcium is released into the blood. Hypercalcemia, caused by high levels of calcium in the blood, may cause excessive thirst, frequent urination, nausea, dehydration and constipation, as well as mental confusion, dizziness or even coma.

Kidney problems: The build-up of abnormal antibody proteins and high blood calcium levels from the dissolved bone tissue may lead to kidney problems.

Spinal cord compression: Multiple myeloma may cause weakened and/or collapsing bone structures, such as the vertebrae, which may lead to spinal cord compression. Pain, numbness or tingling may be a sign of pressure on the spinal cord, which may lead to paralysis without immediate medical intervention.

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