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Symptoms

Find out about the possible symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and when to see your doctor.

Many symptoms of ALL are vague and non specific. You may feel as if you have flu. These symptoms are caused by too many abnormal white blood cells and not enough normal white cells, red cells and platelets.

Most people with one or more of these symptoms don't have leukaemia. But it's important to get any symptoms checked out by your GP. 

General weakness

You might feel weaker than normal. 

Feeling tired (fatigue)

You might feel more tired than normal, even if you are getting a good nights sleep.

A high temperature (fever)

You might have a high temperature or feel feverish.

Frequent infections

You might pick up infections such as coughs and colds easily. Or you might find that the infections last a long time and are difficult to shake off.

This is because you don’t have enough healthy white blood cells to fight bacteria or viruses.

Bruising or bleeding easily

You might have:

  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums when you clean your teeth
  • very heavy periods
  • small dark red spots on your skin
  • blood in your urine or poo

You might find you are bruising more easily than normal.

You may get abnormal bruising and bleeding because you do not have enough platelets.

Weight loss

You might be losing weight even if you have not changed your diet.

Pain in your bones or joints

You might feel pain in your bones or joints. This might be a dull ache or more of a stabbing pain. It might be worse at different times of the day.

Too many abnormal white blood cells collecting in the bones, joints or lymph glands may cause pain and swelling.

Breathlessness

You might notice that you’re feeling breathless more than usual or for a lot of the time. You might feel out of breath after your normal day to day activities or from climbing a short flight of stairs.

You may feel breathless and tired because you do not have enough red blood cells.

Swollen lymph glands

Your lymph nodes might feel swollen when you touch them. You have lymph nodes in lots of places in your body. They might feel swollen in:
  • your neck
  • under your armpit
  • in your groin

Feeling full in your tummy (abdomen)

You might have a feeling of fullness or discomfort in your tummy (abdomen).

This can happen if your liver or spleen are swollen.

Pale skin

You might look paler or more 'washed out' than normal. 

When to see your doctor

You should get any of these symptoms checked by your GP. But remember, they can all be caused by other medical conditions. Most people with these symptoms don’t have leukaemia.

Symptoms of T cell ALL

A type of leukaemia called T cell ALL can cause swollen lymph glands in the centre of your chest. It might make the thymus gland in your upper chest swell. The swollen glands or thymus gland may press on the windpipe, causing breathlessness and coughing. They can also press on the veins carrying blood from the head.

This causes pressure in the blood vessels and makes the face, neck and arms swell and go red. This is called superior vena cava obstruction (SVCO).

Go to the accident and emergency (A&E) department at your nearest hospital if you have any of these symptoms. It can be a medical emergency.
Last reviewed: 
05 May 2015
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    J Tobias and D Hochhauser

    Wiley Blackwell, 2010

  • Cancer - principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)

    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg

    Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2015

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