Signs and Symptoms of Myelodysplastic Syndromes

A main feature of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) is that they cause low blood cell counts. Sometimes this is found on blood tests, even before symptoms appear. In other cases, symptoms related to shortages of one or more types of blood cells (cytopenias) are the first sign of MDS:

  • Having too few red blood cells (anemia) can lead to feeling tired, dizzy, or weak, as well as shortness of breath and pale skin.
  • Not having enough normal white blood cells (leukopenia), especially cells called neutrophils (neutropenia), can lead to frequent or severe infections.
  • Having too few blood platelets (thrombocytopenia) can lead to easy bruising and bleeding. Some people have frequent or severe nosebleeds or bleeding from the gums.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Bone pain
  • Loss of appetite

These symptoms are more likely to be caused by something other than MDS. Still, if you have any of these symptoms, especially if they don’t go away or get worse over time, see your doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Aster JC, Stone RM. Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of the myelodysplastic syndromes. UpToDate. 2017. Accessed at on October 4, 2017.

Komrokji RS, Padron E, List AF. Chapter 111: Myelodysplastic syndromes. In: DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015.

Steensma DP, Stone RM. Chapter 99: Myelodysplastic syndromes. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE. Kastan MB, McKenna WG, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier; 2014.

Last Medical Review: January 22, 2018 Last Revised: January 22, 2018

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.