Signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma can be difficult to detect. For many people, symptoms aren’t experienced during the cancer’s earliest phases. Others have no symptoms at all. As the cancer advances, however, symptoms typically become more noticeable and can vary from person to person.
The most common signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma include:
- Anemia (low red blood cells): may cause weakness, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
- Bone problems: Myeloma can inhibit new bone cell growth, which can result in bone pain, bone weakness, and unexpected bone fractures.
- Frequent infections: Myeloma patients are susceptible to infection and may struggle to recover due to fewer antibodies in the blood. Low blood counts can also contribute to recurring infections. Pneumonia is the most common infection among myeloma patients.
- High calcium levels: High levels of calcium in the blood (called hypercalcemia) can cause a variety of symptoms such as dehydration, extreme thirst, change in urination, constipation, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, drowsiness, weakness, and confusion.
- Hyperviscosity: Sometimes large amounts of myeloma protein can cause the blood to thicken. This thickening, which is called hyperviscosity, can slow blood flow to the brain, resulting in symptoms like confusion, dizziness, and stroke-like symptoms such as slurred speech and weakness on one side of the body.
- Impaired kidney function: Kidney problems and even kidney failure are symptoms of multiple myeloma. Myeloma protein can damage the kidneys, resulting in shortness of breath, weakness, itching, and swelling in the legs.
- Leukopenia (low white blood cells): Multiple myeloma impairs the immune system, leaving patients vulnerable to infections such as pneumonia or urinary tract infections.
- Low blood counts: Myeloma cells crowd out healthy blood cells, causing specific blood issues, each with their own set of symptoms.
- Spinal cord compression: Weakened bones from myeloma can sometimes collapse and press on spinal nerves. Symptoms may include sudden severe back pain and numbness and/or muscle weakness (typically in the legs).
- Thrombocytopenia (low blood platelets): may lead to blood clotting issues like increased bleeding.
If you have any persistent symptoms that worry you, make an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause of the problem. If your doctor suspects multiple myeloma, they will order a set of diagnostic tests to determine a diagnosis and may refer you to a hematologist for further evaluation.