Multiple myeloma may not show any signs during the early stages called smoldering or asymptomatic multiple myeloma. It is only after a blood or urine test that it can be diagnosed. However, as time goes by, a lot of problems and complications associated with multiple myeloma will start to show. Active myeloma exhibits symptoms but they are not uniform for all patients. Symptoms of myeloma start to show when tumors start to form in bone marrow and when plasma cells hinder the growth of healthy blood cells. Below are some symptoms and signs of multiple myeloma:
Multiple myeloma can cause a lot of grief. The pain is usually experienced in the bones, especially the back, ribs or even hips. This pain can be worsened by movement. Myeloma cells grow in the bone marrow. This causes lesions, thinning of bones and damage to the bones. The spine, pelvis and rib cage is mostly affected. Any movement causes more pain, and pain is severe during the night. Bone pain is a very common symptom of multiple myeloma.
Bone fractures and spinal cord compression
Multiple myeloma can make the bones weak and susceptible to fractures. The most affected areas are the ribs and the spine. If the spine is broken, some parts of it can collapse. It can cause pain, and eventually, the spinal cord can compress. This is called a compression fracture. A patient may lose inches from his or her height. Pain, weakness and numbness are experienced if the collapsed vertebra pushes against the spine or touches a nerve there. If the spinal cord is broken, one can experience needles and pins in their limbs. The legs and feet can also become weakened, and worse still, the bladder and bowels may become uncontrollable. Thus, one of the symptoms of myeloma is bone fracture even when there has been no injury.
Multiple myelomas can cause the production of blood cells to weaken in the bone marrow, thus the blood will lack healthy red blood cells, causing anemia. It can also happen during myeloma treatment as a side effect. Tiredness, weakness and difficulty in breathing are some signs of anemia. About two-thirds of individuals diagnosed with myeloma have anemia and others develop anemia later on.
Getting frequent infections that last longer than usual could be a sign of multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma affects the immune system, which is the natural defense system of the body against illnesses and infections. Consequently, people with this condition are unable to fight these infections and are exposed to diseases like pneumonia, fever and infections of the upper respiratory tract and lungs.
Raised calcium levels in the blood
Individuals with this condition have the possibility of having high levels of calcium in their blood. This is because a lot of calcium is freed into the bloodstream from the affected bones. A feeling of sickness, an urge to urinate frequently, constipation, thirst, confusion and drowsiness are some effects associated with high levels of calcium found in the blood, which is referred to as hypercalcemia. Loss of appetite and its accompanying complications are also a result of raised calcium levels.
Bleeding and bruising can be effects of multiple myeloma. They can come in the forms of frequent nosebleeds, heavy periods and bleeding gums. This happens because the cancer cells present in the bone marrow can hinder the making of platelets that assist in the clotting of blood.
Some people can experience thickness of blood due to multiple myeloma. Myeloma cells affect the production of healthy red blood cells and produce excessive abnormal proteins. These proteins build up in your blood causing thickening of blood. This is called hyperviscocity syndrome.
It causes problems such as headaches, gum bleeding, nose bleeding and difficulty in breathing.
It can also slow down the flow of blood to the brain, causing dizziness and mental confusion, neurological symptoms and sometimes heart failure in myeloma patients.
For people with multiple myeloma, the kidneys can become damaged. This is due to various reasons, such as the production of abnormal proteins by the cancer cells. There are some medications for multiple myeloma that can cause kidney damage. Ultimately, one may suffer from renal failure, and this comes with signs such as poor appetite, weight loss, swollen feet, hands and ankles, difficulty in breathing and itchy skin, among other signs and symptoms.
The symptoms listed above are specific signs of multiple myeloma. They are specific to certain patients and may not be seen in all the people diagnosed with multiple myeloma. There are also some symptoms which are general. They are seen in almost all persons affected by myeloma. All multiple myeloma patients are vulnerable to infections and weight loss. Vulnerability to infections increases during chemotherapy. Bleeding of tumors in the ribs can be seen in most patients. In persons who are in the advanced stage of multiple myeloma, purple colored bumps are seen under the skin due to tumor cells getting collected there. Bruises on the skin are also common.
Seeking medical advice
It is recommended that you check with your health practitioner if you have the symptoms and signs of multiple myeloma. Though it is not certain that these symptoms and signs are caused by cancer, it is crucial to be sure and get diagnosed correctly. Medical help should be sought immediately upon the realization that one has spinal cord compression or kidney damage. If one is having such symptoms, they should thoroughly be investigated, and proper medication should be given.
If diagnosed as multiple myeloma, the treatment and care is focused on the symptoms and the best way to manage, alleviate and provide treatment for the symptoms. In other words, symptom management and supportive therapy for the signs of myeloma are advised.
Treatment is not given to those who do not have any of the above signs. Treatment starts only when these symptoms develop.
Any changes in the symptoms or development of new symptoms should be brought to the notice of the doctor immediately.