Signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma
Although some patients with multiple myeloma have no symptoms at all, the following are the most common symptoms of this disease:
- Pain, which can be in any bone, but is most often in the back, the hips, and skull
- Bone weakness, either all over (osteoporosis), or where there is a plasmacytoma
- Broken bones (fractures), sometimes from only a minor stress or injury
Low blood counts
Shortages of red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood platelets are common in multiple myeloma.
- A reduced number of red blood cells, a condition called anemia, causes weakness, reduced ability to exercise, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
- Too few white blood cells (a condition called leukopenia) lowers resistance to infections such as pneumonia.
- When blood platelet counts are low (a condition called thrombocytopenia), even minor scrapes, cuts, or bruises may cause serious bleeding.
High blood levels of calcium
High levels of calcium in the blood (called hypercalcemia) can cause:
- Extreme thirst, leading to drinking a lot of fluids
- Urinating (peeing) a lot
- Kidney problems and even kidney failure
- Severe constipation,
- Abdominal (belly) pain
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling drowsy
If the level of calcium gets high enough, you can even lapse into a coma.
Nervous system symptoms
If myeloma weakens the bones in the spine, they can collapse and press on spinal nerves. This is called spinal cord compression and can cause
- Sudden severe back pain,
- Numbness, most often in the legs
- Muscle weakness, most often in the legs.
This is a medical emergency and you should contact your doctor right away or go to the emergency room.
Sometimes, the abnormal proteins produced by myeloma cells are toxic to nerves. This damage can lead to weakness and numbness.
In some patients, large amounts of myeloma protein can cause the blood to “thicken.” This thickening is called hyperviscosity. It can slow blood flow to the brain and cause:
- Symptoms of a stroke, like weakness on one side of the body and slurred speech
Patients with these symptoms should call their doctor. Removing the protein from the blood using a procedure called plasmapheresis can rapidly reverse this problem. (Note: This is not something that can be treated with drugs known as “blood thinners.”)
Myeloma protein can damage the kidneys. Early on, this doesn’t cause any symptoms, but signs of kidney damage may be seen on a blood test or a urine test. As the kidneys start to fail, they lose the ability to dispose of excess salt, fluid, and body waste products. This can lead to symptoms like
- Shortness of breath
- Leg swelling.
Myeloma patients are much more likely to get infections. When someone with myeloma gets an infection, they may be slow to respond to treatment. That person may stay sick for a long time. Pneumonia is a common and serious infection seen in myeloma patients.
Signs and symptoms of light chain amyloidosis
Patients with amyloidosis (discussed in the section “What is multiple myeloma?”) can have some of the same problems as patients with myeloma, such as kidney problems and nerve damage. They also can have other problems, such as:
- Heart problems: Some patients develop an irregular heartbeat. The heart may enlarge and become weaker. In some people, the heart becomes so weak that fluid builds up in the lungs, making them feel short of breath. Fluid may also build up in the legs and feet (edema). This is called congestive heart failure.
- Enlarged liver and spleen: The person may feel the liver below the right ribs and the spleen below the left ribs. When these get large they can press on the stomach and so the person feels full after eating only a small amount of food.
- Enlarged tongue: When amyloid builds up in the tongue it can get larger. This can lead to problems swallowing and problems breathing during sleep (sleep apnea).
- Skin changes: Such as changes in the color or texture, easy bruising, and bleeding into the skin around the eyes (“raccoon eyes”)
- Carpal tunnel syndrome: Which causes numbness and weakness in the hands.
Last Medical Review: 05/22/2014
Last Revised: 06/16/2014