Signs and symptoms of myeloma

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Often the first indication that something is wrong

In the early stages of myeloma, some people may be asymptomatic, meaning that they aren’t experiencing any symptoms;
in many of these cases, myeloma may be detected as a result of routine blood work.

However, in most cases, individuals first go to their doctor, or even the emergency room, with vague and persistent complaints of back or bone pain, extreme fatigue, or recurrent infections that they may mistakenly believe are signs of “getting older.”

When symptoms are present, most are the result of excessively high numbers of plasma cells in the bone marrow and the presence of M-protein (paraprotein) in the blood or urine.

Common myeloma signs and symptoms

Bone pain is the main reason 70% of people with myeloma first seek medical attention. Pain is most frequently reported in the middle or lower back, in the ribs, or in the hips.

As myeloma cells invade the bone, they damage and weaken the bone and increase the risk of fractures.

Extreme and persistent fatigue, which can be caused by:

  • the myeloma itself
  • one or more myeloma-related complications (e.g. anemia)
  • side effects from myeloma treatments

Feeling extremely tired and weak

  • Excessively large numbers of abnormal plasma cells can decrease the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow and lead to anemia.

Overcrowding in the bone marrow interferes with the production of healthy infection-fighting cells, reducing the ability of the immune system to fight off infections and illnesses.

The breakdown of bone caused by myeloma causes excess calcium to accumulate in the blood (a condition known as “hypercalcemia”), which can lead to a number of different symptoms such as:

  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • restlessness
  • difficulty in thinking
  • confusion
  • constipation
  • increased thirst
  • increased urine production
  • nausea and vomiting

Kidney damage can occur as a result of:

  • too much protein in the blood (which is filtered through the kidneys)
  • high levels of calcium in the blood (due to the breakdown of bone)
  • excessive light chain proteins from immunoglobulin in the urine

Pain or discomfort from the kidneys is often felt in the back, sides, or belly.

Managing Pain & Fatigue

Pain and fatigue can make day-to-day life with myeloma more difficult. Learn how to manage and cope with myeloma-related pain and fatigue in our Managing Pain and Fatigue InfoGuide.

Not all people with myeloma will have all, some, or even any of the signs and symptoms above.

Signs and symptoms of myeloma may not even be due to myeloma at all but rather to other health problems that cause the same symptoms. That’s why it’s important for anyone experiencing these or any other symptoms to consult with a medical professional. The sooner a problem can be diagnosed and treated, the better.

Multiple Myeloma Patient Handbook

For more information, download the Multiple Myeloma Patient Handbook

Designed to provide educational support to those living with myeloma, their caregivers, families, and friends, this handbook gives accurate, reliable, and clear information on myeloma. Among topics are in-depth discussions on what myeloma is, its causes and effects, treatment options in Canada, and how to manage your myeloma journey.