Symptoms of leukaemia

Leukaemia is a type of blood cancer. It means that the body makes large numbers of abnormal white blood cells Open a glossary item. Blood cancers are also called haematological cancers.

Common symptoms of leukaemia include:

  • feeling weak or tired
  • a high temperature or fever
  • bruising and bleeding easily
  • picking up or not being able to shake off infections easily
  • weight loss
  • pale skin
  • shortness of breath
  • swelling of your lymph nodes Open a glossary item
  • feeling full in your tummy (abdomen)

The symptoms listed here are often caused by other medical conditions. But it is important to see your GP if you have any of these symptoms.

You may have other symptoms that are not listed here. This is because there are different types of leukaemia and the exact symptoms you have depends on the type of leukaemia you have.

It’s also important to remember that some people diagnosed with leukaemia, do not have any symptoms. They are diagnosed after having a routine blood test for something else.

This page is about the possible symptoms of leukaemia in adults. We have separate information about the signs and symptoms of cancer in children.

Feeling weak or tired

You might feel more tired or weaker than normal, even if you are getting a good night’s sleep.

A high temperature or a fever

You might have a high temperature or feel feverish.

Bruising and 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 (stool)

You may find that you are bruising more easily than normal.

Frequent infections

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

Weight loss

You might lose weight even if you haven’t changed your diet.

Pale skin

You might look paler or more ‘washed out’ than normal.

Shortness of breath

You might feel breathless when doing your normal day to day activities or after climbing a short flight of stairs.

Swollen lymph nodes

Your lymph nodes might feel swollen when you touch them. We have lymph nodes almost everywhere in our body. But they can only usually be felt in certain areas such as:

  • your neck

  • under your arm

  • in your groin

Feeling full in your abdomen

You might have a feeling of fullness or discomfort in your abdomen. This can happen if your liver or spleen Open a glossary item are swollen.

When to see your doctor

Most people with these symptoms don’t have leukaemia. But it is important to get any of these symptoms checked by your GP.

Your GP can do some tests to help them find out the cause of your symptoms. The tests you usually have include:

  • a physical examination

  • blood tests

Depending on the results of your tests, your GP might arrange for you to go to the hospital and see a haematologist. This is a doctor who specialises in diseases of the blood such as leukaemia. Some people have to go to hospital straight away. Your GP will contact the hospital and ask you to go there if they suspect that you have leukaemia.

Your haematologist does more tests at the hospital. The exact tests you have depend on the type of leukaemia they suspect you have.

We have information about the tests and treatments you might have for the different types of leukaemia. Ask your doctor or specialist nurse if you aren’t sure about the type of leukaemia you have.

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2015. Last updated October 2023

  • Scottish Referral Guidelines for suspected cancer
    NHS Scotland, 2019. Last updated October 2022

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (12th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2023

  • Haematology (8th edition)
    A Hoffbrand and D Steensma
    Wiley Blackwell, 2020

  • Overview of leukaemia
    BMJ Best Practice, 2024

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

Last reviewed: 
14 May 2024
Next review due: 
14 May 2027

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