Myeloma symptoms | Cancer Research UK
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Myeloma symptoms

Multiple myeloma does not always cause symptoms in its early stages. But possible symptoms can include

  • Pain in the bones especially in the back or ribs
  • A broken bone (fracture)
  • Thirst
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Passing a lot of urine
  • Tiredness, shortness of breath or weakness
  • Repeated infections or infection that is difficult to clear
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising more easily than normal
  • Swollen ankles

About 7 out of every 10 people with myeloma (70%) have pain when they are first diagnosed. The pain is most often in the lower back or ribs. Pain in the bones is caused by a lot of plasma cells collecting there. The large numbers of plasma cells damage the bones. Occasionally it is a fracture of a bone that leads to a hospital admission, and a diagnosis of myeloma is made.

All of the symptoms listed above are more likely to be caused by other illnesses. However, if you have any symptoms like these, you should see your doctor.

 

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Symptoms caused by a lack of healthy blood cells

Multiple myeloma does not always cause symptoms in its early stages, and may be picked up on a routine blood test. Symptoms happen because you have a lot of abnormal plasma cells in your bone marrow. The abnormal plasma cells damage the bones and crowd out the normal blood cells. So you may have too few white cells, red cells and platelets.

You may be more prone to infection, such as a chest infections. And once you have an infection, you may find it is difficult to clear. This is because you do not have enough healthy white blood cells to fight the bacteria or viruses. Abnormal bruising and bleeding can happen in myeloma because the large numbers of plasma cells in your bone marrow have stopped platelets from being made. Breathlessness and tiredness can happen because you do not have enough red blood cells (anaemia).

Read about blood cells.

 

Bone pain and bone damage

Up to 7 out of every 10 people (70%) have pain when they are diagnosed with myeloma. People mostly describe the pain as dull or aching, and is often felt in the lower back or ribs. Pain in the bones is caused by a lot of plasma cells collecting there. The large numbers of plasma cells damage the bones. Occasionally, a bone breaks (fractures) and this leads to a hospital admission.

 

Symptoms caused by having too much calcium in your blood

When the bones are damaged, calcium is released into the bloodstream. Too much calcium in the blood is called hypercalcaemia. It makes you feel very thirsty, sick and tired. You may also pass a lot of urine, as your body tries to get rid of the extra calcium. If hypercalcaemia is not treated and gets worse, it can make you drowsy and difficult to wake. About 3 out of 10 people (30%) with myeloma have symptoms like these when they first go to the doctor.

 

Swollen ankles

Your ankles can get swollen because your kidneys are not working properly. This is a later symptom of myeloma. The large amounts of antibody protein (immunoglobulin) made by the abnormal plasma cells can damage your kidneys as it passes through from the bloodstream to the urine. You may hear your doctor call the antibody protein Bence Jones protein after the doctor who first discovered it.

 

Other causes of these symptoms

All of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by other illnesses. However, if you have any symptoms like these, you should see your doctor.

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Updated: 1 December 2015