7 lesser-known signs of multiple myeloma

7 lesser-known signs of multiple myeloma

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that primarily affects the plasma cells found in the bone marrow. Plasma cells typically produce antibodies to help the body fight infections. However, in multiple myeloma, certain plasma cells become cancerous and start to multiply uncontrollably, crowding out healthy blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. These cancerous plasma cells can produce abnormal proteins, which can accumulate in the blood and urine, leading to various health problems.
Here are the lesser-known signs of multiple myeloma:

  • Recurrent infections
    Multiple myeloma weakens the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections. However, this sign is often overlooked or attributed to other causes. Recurring or persistent infections, such as respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, or skin infections, can be an early indication of an underlying immune system dysfunction caused by multiple myeloma.

    The connection between multiple myeloma and infections lies in the disease’s impact on plasma cells’ production of antibodies. As the cancerous plasma cells multiply in the bone marrow, they crowd out healthy cells responsible for producing antibodies, impairing the body’s ability to fight infections effectively. Recognizing the link between recurring infections and multiple myeloma can lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment, which may improve the patient’s overall prognosis.

  • Unexplained anemia
    Though anemia is a common complication for those suffering from multiple myeloma, it can manifest in subtle ways that are often overlooked. Anemia is caused by a shortage of healthy red blood cells and can manifest in symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and pale skin. In multiple myeloma, anemia may develop due to the cancerous cells infiltrating the bone marrow and displacing normal blood cell production.

    Anemia in multiple myeloma is less known because it can be mild and may not cause significant symptoms initially. Patients and healthcare providers may attribute fatigue and weakness to other factors, delaying the diagnosis of multiple myeloma.

    Regular blood tests that measure hemoglobin levels can help detect anemia, even in its early stages, and potentially lead to the diagnosis of multiple myeloma at an earlier, more treatable stage.

  • Kidney problems
    Kidney complications are relatively common in multiple myeloma patients. They can manifest as various symptoms, such as changes in urination patterns, swelling in the legs and ankles, or persistent nausea and vomiting. However, these signs are often misattributed to other causes, such as urinary tract infections or gastrointestinal issues.

    Multiple myeloma can damage the kidneys through several mechanisms, including the overproduction of abnormal proteins known as monoclonal proteins, or M proteins. These proteins can accumulate in the kidneys, impairing their function and leading to myeloma-related kidney disease.

    Early detection of kidney problems in multiple myeloma is crucial because prompt intervention can help preserve kidney function and improve quality of life. Routine monitoring of kidney function, including blood tests and urine analysis, is essential for individuals at risk of multiple myeloma.

  • Peripheral neuropathy
    Peripheral neuropathy is a less recognized but potentially debilitating symptom of multiple myeloma. It involves damage to the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms like tingling, numbness, weakness, and pain in the extremities are typical in such cases. Patients with multiple myeloma may experience peripheral neuropathy due to the cancerous cells pressing on nerves or the effects of certain medications used in treatment.

    Peripheral neuropathy can significantly impact a patient’s daily life and mobility, making it crucial to identify and manage this symptom early. Recognizing it as a potential sign of multiple myeloma can lead to a more timely diagnosis and targeted treatment strategies that may help alleviate the discomfort associated with neuropathy.

  • Bleeding and clotting issues
    Multiple myeloma can disrupt the body’s ability to maintain an acceptable balance between bleeding and clotting. This can result in unexpected bleeding, such as nosebleeds, gum bleeding, or easy bruising. Conversely, some patients may become susceptible to blood clots, leading to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism.

    These bleeding and clotting issues often go unnoticed or are attributed to unrelated causes. However, they can indicate underlying blood abnormalities associated with multiple myeloma.

  • Bone pain in unusual locations
    Bone pain is a well-known symptom of multiple myeloma, but it can manifest in less typical locations that may be overlooked. While pain in the spine, ribs, or pelvis is more commonly associated with multiple myeloma, it can also affect other bones, such as those in the arms or legs. The pain may be mistaken for musculoskeletal issues or attributed to overuse. If individuals experience persistent bone pain, especially in unusual areas, it should be investigated further to rule out multiple myeloma.

  • Vision problems
    Multiple myeloma can occasionally affect the eyes, leading to various vision problems. This can include blurred vision, difficulty focusing, or even vision loss in severe cases. These eye issues can result from the buildup of abnormal proteins, like M proteins, in the eye’s structures, causing damage and interfering with normal vision. Eye problems in the context of multiple myeloma should not be ignored and should be promptly evaluated by an eye specialist, as they may indicate underlying systemic disease.

The mechanisms behind these complications in multiple myeloma involve abnormal plasma cells interfering with the production of clotting factors and platelets. Healthcare providers need to recognize these signs as potential indicators of multiple myeloma, as early diagnosis and appropriate management can help prevent further complications.

Multiple myeloma is a complex disease with many symptoms, some of which are less well-known and may be overlooked or attributed to other causes. Identifying these lesser-known signs, such as recurrent infections, unexplained anemia, kidney problems, peripheral neuropathy, and bleeding or clotting issues, is crucial for early detection and diagnosis.

Early detection can significantly impact the course of multiple myeloma, allowing for more effective treatment options and improved outcomes. Increased awareness and vigilance can lead to earlier intervention and ultimately improve the prognosis for individuals affected by this challenging disease.