Multiple myeloma is a malignancy that begins in plasma cells. These are a type of white blood cell. The plasma cells produce antibodies that recognize and kill germs in the body to help it fight off infection. Unfortunately, in this condition, cancerous cells accumulate in the bone marrow and crowd out other healthy cells. Cancerous plasma cells do not produce regular antibodies. Instead, they produce abnormal proteins that do not work correctly. Almost all cases of multiple myeloma begin as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance.
Thankfully, there are a few different options for multiple myeloma treatment. Many patients often start with watchful waiting when their condition does not cause symptoms. Of course, typical cancer treatments are often including when treatment for multiple myeloma does begin. Options here include targeted therapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy for cancer. Patients will often take corticosteroids for multiple myeloma, and others will need a bone marrow transplant. However, treatment starts with understanding the symptoms of multiple myeloma. Learn about them now.
Bone pain is when an individual feels tenderness, aching, or another form of discomfort in their bone tissues. It is the most common symptom associated with the development of a malignancy in the bone. As multiple myeloma is most likely to affect the long bones of the arms and legs, they are also the most common site of bone pain. The bone pain from this condition may start as an ache that comes and goes when engaging in physical activity with the affected bone.
As the disease progresses, the patient may notice their bone ache becomes more persistent when they are at rest. The painful bone may begin to swell after participation in certain physical activities. An individual with multiple myeloma who is unsure of where their pain is coming from may describe it as a deep soreness in their limb.
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As mentioned, multiple myeloma is a malignancy that develops in plasma cells. These are a type of white blood cell that produces antibodies in the body that fight off infection-causing pathogens. White blood cells are a critical component of the immune system and the way it eliminates infection-causing bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. When an individual's immune system becomes compromised in any way, they will be more susceptible to infections. This is because they do not have a strong defense system.
Patients with this condition have a shortage of functional plasma cells. This happens because the cancerous cells crowd them out and cause them to become non-functional. Instead of producing helpful antibodies to help fight against infection-causing pathogens, the cancerous plasma cells produce abnormal proteins that do not contribute to the immune system's actions. This malfunction allows those with multiple myeloma to experience more frequent infections than an unaffected individual.
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Loss Of Appetite
Several symptoms are seen in individuals affected by almost all forms of cancer. This includes multiple myeloma. One such symptom is a loss of appetite. Cancerous cells in the body need glucose, oxygen, and other nutrients to carry out their functions the same way healthy cells need these nutrients. However, cancerous cells grow and divide much quicker than healthy cells do. This induces a process that creates a large number of malignant cells in the body compared to the number of healthy cells.
The cancerous cells use up all the nutrients and calories absorbed from the food the patient consumes, leaving little left for the healthy cells to use to produce energy. This lack of energy causes processes in the body to slow down. One of the processes that slow is digestion. When food stagnates in the digestive system, the patient can experience a loss of appetite. Patients may also deal with appetite loss in this condition due to high calcium in their blood.
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One of the most common symptoms observed in individuals with cancer, including this one, is chronic fatigue and weakness. The prevalence of these symptoms is not surprising because malignant tumors are made of cells. All cells require energy, which is produced by processes that require nutrients like glucose and oxygen. Cancerous cells use up more glucose faster than healthy cells do because they are constantly growing and dividing.
Due to this property of cancerous cells, healthy cells become deprived of the nutrients needed to produce enough cellular energy to carry out their functions. This lack of energy causes the body to implement a mechanism to compensate for the reduced amount of energy, where ATP is allocated to organs vital to sustaining life. This process takes energy from non-critical cells like those that form the limb muscles to cater to the cells of vital organs. The redistribution of energy causes a multiple myeloma patient to experience chronic fatigue.
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One of the most common causes of nausea in multiple myeloma patients is an infection in the digestive tract. Individuals who have this condition have decreased immune system functionality because plasma cells do not produce enough functional antibodies. Antibodies protect an individual from pathogens that can cause an infection. Without essential defenses, an affected individual is more susceptible to infections of all kinds. This includes those that occur in the stomach from foreign pathogens and those that develop in the intestines from gut bacteria overgrowth.
When an infection occurs in the stomach or intestines, it causes the organs to experience inflammation that can trigger nausea. A cancer patient may also experience nausea from a slow-moving digestive system. This happens when cancerous cells leave no nutrients for the healthy cells to produce the energy needed to move food along at a normal rate.
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Confusion And Brain Fog
A fair amount of patients with multiple myeloma will experience confusion and brain fog. Of course, brain fog refers to the feeling of not being able to think clearly. Individuals with this symptom often say that they cannot focus well. As confusion and brain fog are similar symptoms, patients who experience one will likely deal with the other. Certain individuals may even categorize them as the same symptom. Multiple myeloma patients often deal with brain fog and confusion due to hyperviscosity. This occurs when too much myeloma protein causes blood to thicken, thus slowing blood flow to the patient’s brain. Another trigger for these symptoms is having too much calcium in the blood.
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Many individuals who have multiple myeloma will deal with excessive thirst. This usually happens because the patient’s kidneys cannot adequately flush calcium out of their body through urine. The kidneys can have this difficulty because as an individual’s bones break down due to multiple myeloma, calcium will likely enter the bloodstream faster. Too much calcium in the blood results in hypercalcemia. One of the major signs of this is experiencing excessive thirst. Thus, individuals with this condition will drink significantly more water and other beverages than they would normally. The amount, however, can vary.
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Many patients with multiple myeloma will deal with some constipation. This can happen for a variety of reasons. One of them is a buildup of calcium in the patient’s blood, which, as discussed, is the result of their bones breaking down and their kidneys being unable to keep up. In addition to hypercalcemia, patients may deal with constipation if they are not drinking enough water, are experiencing appetite loss, or are not being physically active. A lack of fiber in the patient’s diet is another reason for constipation to occur in multiple myeloma.
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Unexplained Weight Loss
Most multiple myeloma patients will deal with a classic symptom of many types of cancer, which is unexplained weight loss. Unexplained weight loss is defined as the loss of weight that happens when an individual is not actively trying to lose weight through methods such as diet and exercise. In most cases, for unexplained weight loss to be concerning, such as when multiple myeloma is the cause, patients will lose approximately five percent of their body weight or ten pounds or more in six to twelve months or less. Multiple myeloma patients may lose this weight due to numerous factors, such as appetite loss and nausea, two other symptoms of this condition. Of course, it is also worth noting that multiple myeloma means that patients have cancerous cells in their body, which require significantly more energy to function. If patients are not consuming enough food to provide this energy, the cancerous cells will take it from the fat, muscle, and other parts already in their body.
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Muscle Weakness And Numbness
Individuals with multiple myeloma can also display muscle weakness and numbness as signs of their condition. In most instances, the muscle weakness and numbness occur most often in the patient’s legs. These symptoms are signs that multiple myeloma has weakened the bones in the patient’s spine, causing them to collapse and abnormally press on the spinal nerves. Another term for this effect is spinal cord compression. Muscle weakness and numbness due to multiple myeloma are widely considered a medical emergency. Thus, patients should call their doctor immediately or visit the emergency room. Immediate treatment is crucial to have a chance at preventing paralysis.