Leukemia--Chronic Lymphocytic Overview

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Signs and symptoms of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Symptoms of CLL are often very general and can include the following:

  • Weakness
  • Feeling very tired
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Swollen lymph nodes (these can sometimes be felt as lumps under the skin)
  • Pain or a sense of "fullness" in the belly (especially after eating a small meal), which is caused by an enlarged spleen

Many of the symptoms of advanced CLL happen because the leukemia cells replace the bone marrow's normal blood-making cells. As a result, people do not make enough red blood cells, normal white blood cells, and blood platelets.

  • Anemia is a result of a shortage of red blood cells. Anemia causes weakness, tiredness, and shortness of breath.
  • Not having enough normal white blood cells increases the risk of infection. Although people with leukemia may have very high white blood cell counts, the cells are not normal and do not protect against infection very well. A common term you may hear is neutropenia, which refers to low levels of a type of cell called a neutrophil.
  • Not having enough blood platelets (thrombocytopenia) can lead to bruising, bleeding, frequent or severe nosebleeds, and bleeding from the gums.

People with CLL have a higher risk of infections. This is mainly because their immune systems are not working as well as they should. Infections may range from simple things like frequent colds or cold sores to pneumonia and other serious infections.

CLL may also affect the immune system in other ways. In some people with CLL, the immune system cells make abnormal antibodies that attack normal blood cells. This is known as autoimmunity.

CLL often enlarges the liver or spleen. If these organs are enlarged, you may notice fullness or swelling of the belly. You may also notice that you feel full after only a small meal.

The symptoms listed above may be caused by CLL, but they can also be caused by other problems.

Still, if you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

Last Medical Review: 08/05/2013
Last Revised: 11/04/2014