Our blood contains many different blood cells. These cells have different lifespans. Red blood cells have an average lifespan of 120 days, White blood cells can live up to 20 days, and platelets have a lifespan of around eight days only. Because old blood cells die, the body needs to form new ones continually. Our bone marrow is responsible for creating new blood cells. In acute myeloid leukemia, the bone marrow starts to produce abnormal white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Keep reading to learn about 10 symptoms of acute myeloid leukemia.
The initial symptoms of the acute myeloid leukemia are usually vague and not specific. They are described as influenza-like. The patient can start to feel that their body temperature has increased, they experienced headaches, they are tired and exhausted all the time, and they do not want to eat. These symptoms are generic and don’t necessarily point to acute myeloid leukemia. Therefore, it is hard to establish a suspicion of the disease at this early stage. The symptoms are usually experienced for four to six weeks before the patient is diagnosed.
In acute myeloid leukemia, the bone marrow produces a high number of abnormal blood cells. These cells are can rapidly grow and build up in the bone marrow, which will cause the bone marrow to decrease its production of normal healthy blood cells. One of these affected cells is red blood cells. This will cause the person who has acute myeloid leukemia to develop anemia. Anemia will cause many symptoms, including fatigue. This is because red blood cells are responsible for delivering oxygen to all of the cells in the body. The cell will not be able to find an adequate amount of oxygen that it needs to produce energy. So, the person will feel tired and exhausted all the time.
A decreased number of red blood cells can also cause pale skin. The blood running through the vessels is what gives the skin its pinkish color, and the blood appears red in color because it contains red blood cells. Red blood cells are red because they contain red subunit called heme. Heme helps in binding iron which, in turn, helps in binding oxygen. When there are less red blood cells, the blood will contain a lesser amount of that subunit, causing the skin will appear paler.
Dizziness and Shortness of Breath
As the number of red blood cells decreases, the cells in the brain do not get an adequate amount of oxygen they need for various functions. This makes the person affected with acute myeloid leukemia feel dizzy and lightheaded. Many patients may find it hard to focus, concentrate or perform challenging mental activities. They may also experience breathing difficulties in the form of shortness of breath. This shortness of breath becomes more apparent when the person tries to perform physical activity. Again, a decreased number of red blood cells can also cause this symptom.
White blood cells are a crucial and vital part of the body’s defense system. They help protect the body from many harmful organisms. In acute myeloid leukemia, the bone marrow produces a large number of abnormal white blood cells. However, these abnormal cells have no function and have no role in protecting the body against dangerous organisms. They grow quickly and accumulate in the bone marrow. This makes the bone marrow produce less healthy white blood cells. That is why acute myeloid leukemia patients have a low immunity and are more likely to get sick than healthy people.
The abnormal cells that crowd the bone marrow decrease its production of platelets as well. Platelets play a major role in clot formation to stop bleeding. The low number of platelets is scientifically termed “thrombocytopenia.” It will lead to petechiae and bleeding from the gums, nose, and under the skin. Petechiae are small red spots on the skin or mucous membrane resulting from bleeding of a small capillary vessel. Small petechiae can group together to form a larger purple or blue spot called ecchymoses. Acute myeloid leukemia will also experience bleeding from minor trauma and an increase in the time needed so that the bleeding stops.
Most people with acute myeloid leukemia will experience some form of bone pain. It is a relatively common symptom that occurs commonly in the long bone. Long bones are a type of bone present in the human body and include the femur, tibia, and fibula. The patient will feel the pain when the bone marrow inside these long bones is crammed with abnormal leukemia cells. Pain and inflammation in the joints are commonly associated with bone pain.
The abnormal cells of acute myeloid leukemia may collect in the liver and spleen. Because there is a significant number of them and they tend to grow rapidly, they can cause the liver and spleen to increase in size. That is why someone with acute myeloid leukemia will develop a swollen abdomen. They may feel fullness or heaviness. Acute myeloid leukemia can also spread to the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes are bean-sized parts of the human body that play a major role in immunity. In this case, the lymph nodes will swell and become enlarged.
The abnormal cells produced by the bone marrow are present in the blood in high numbers. So, it is theoretically possible for them to spread to any organ in the human body, including the skin and the gums. The cells of acute myeloid leukemia can collect under the skin to form what appears to be a tumor-like mass called “chloroma.” Alternatively, they may only cause lumps or a rash. When the abnormal cells move to the gums, they can cause the patient to feel pain.
Acute myeloid leukemia is not just a dangerous disease; it can also become an emergency for some of the affected patients. The high number of abnormal white blood cells can block the blood flow through the vessel which is very dangerous. It may lead to an affection of the lung or of the brain. In this case, it is important to visit an oncologist to seek medical help as soon as possible. The physician can lower the number of white blood cells rapidly using chemotherapy or radiation.