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Although any of the symptoms and signs below can be caused by acute myeloid leukemia (AML), they can also be caused by other conditions. Still, if you have any of these problems, it’s important to see a doctor so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

General symptoms

Patients with AML often have some non-specific (general) symptoms. These can include:

  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Loss of appetite

Of course, these are not just symptoms of AML, and more often are caused by something other than leukemia.

Symptoms from low numbers of normal blood cells

Many signs and symptoms of AML come from a shortage of normal blood cells, which happens when the leukemia cells crowd out the normal blood-making cells in the bone marrow. As a result, people do not have enough normal red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets. These shortages show up on blood tests, but they can also cause symptoms.

Symptoms from a shortage of red blood cells (anemia): Red blood cells carry oxygen to all of the cells in the body. A shortage of red blood cells can cause:

  • Tiredness
  • Weakness
  • Feeling cold
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms from a shortage of normal white blood cells: Not having enough normal white blood cells can increase the risk of infection. Fevers and other signs of infection are common symptoms.

Symptoms from a shortage of blood platelets: Not having enough blood platelets can lead to:

  • Excess bruising and bleeding
  • Frequent or severe nosebleeds
  • Bleeding gums

Symptoms from high numbers of leukemia cells

AML cancer cells are bigger than normal white blood cells and have more trouble going through tiny blood vessels. These cells can clog up blood vessels, which can affect normal blood flow to the brain, leading to symptoms like those seen with a stroke, such as:

  • Headache
  • Weakness in one side of the body
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Sleepiness

The cancer cells can also affect normal blood flow to other organs, such as the lungs (leading to problems with shortness of breath) or the eyes (leading to blurry vision or even loss of vision).

These problems are rare, but they need to be treated right away.

Bleeding and clotting problems

Patients with a certain type of AML called acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) may have bleeding and clotting problems. They may have a nose bleed that won’t stop, or a cut that won’t stop oozing. They may also have calf swelling from a blood clot called a deep venous thrombosis (DVT) or chest pain and shortness of breath from a blood clot in the lung (called a pulmonary embolism or PE).

Bone or joint pain

Some people have pain caused by the build-up of leukemia cells in bones or joints.

Swelling in the belly

Leukemia can also cause swelling of the liver and spleen. This may be noticed as a fullness or swelling of the belly.

Spread to the skin

If leukemia cells spread to the skin, they can cause lumps or spots that may look like common rashes.

Spread to the gums

Certain types of AML can spread to the gums, causing swelling, pain, and bleeding.

Spread to other organs

Sometimes, leukemia cells spread to other organs. If it spreads to the brain and spinal cord it can cause:

  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Trouble with balance
  • Numbness on the face
  • Blurred vision

Rarely, AML can spread to the eyes, testicles, kidneys, or other organs.

Enlarged lymph nodes

AML rarely spreads to lymph nodes. Nodes in the neck, groin, under arms, or above the collarbone may swell and be felt as lumps under the skin.

Last Medical Review: 04/21/2015
Last Revised: 02/22/2016