Generally, the initial signs and symptoms for people with AML will mimic those of the flu or other common diseases. You should see a doctor if you experience:
- Bone pain
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Frequent infections
- Swollen gums
- Swollen liver or spleen
- Easy bruising
- Tiny red spots on your skin (petechiae)
- Unusual bleeding, such as frequent nosebleeds or bleeding from the gums
Condition Based Symptoms
These signs and symptoms are caused by a reduced level of healthy blood cells. Your bone marrow produces 3 types of blood cells with specific functions:
- red blood cells which help with oxygen transfer
- platelets which affect blood clotting
- white blood cells which impact immune response
A lack of any of these three types of blood cell will result in condition-specific symptoms:
Anemia: This occurs when your body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells. Red blood cells are the most abundant blood cell in the body. They are in charge of transferring oxygen from the lungs to the rest of your body. When your body does not have enough red blood cells, it cannot transfer adequate amounts of oxygen. The symptoms of anemia include a pale complexion as well as feeling tired, weak and short of breath.
Bleeding: Low platelet levels will result in bruises and excessive bleeding. Platelets help clot blood in the presence of injuries such as cuts and abrasions. The absence of platelets means that there is no way for the body to stop bleeding. Excessive bleeding can further worsen anemia.
Weakened Immune System: When your white blood cells are compromised, you are at a higher risk of infection. White blood cells are in charge of identifying invading viruses and bacteria. Once identified, the white blood cells launch an immune attack against the foreign invader. With fewer white blood cells, you are more likely to get infections and less likely to be able to recover from them.
Stage Related Symptoms
Symptoms present at AML onset
You may experience certain symptoms as a result of the presence of a high number of leukemia cells. Because these cells are larger than normal blood cells, they can potentially clog up blood vessels. This is called leukostasis. Although uncommon, this is something that needs to be treated right away.
Symptoms to look out for are similar to stroke symptoms:
- Weakness on one side of the body
- Slurred speech
Bleeding and clotting problems
People with a specific subtype of AML known as acute promyelocytic leukemia (APL) often have more problems with bleeding and clotting. This can look different for everyone, but a nosebleed that doesn't stop or a cut that won't heal are common examples. Blood clotting might present itself as a swollen limb due to clotting in deep tissue or chest pain and shortness of breath due to clotting in the lungs.
Bone or joint pain
This is often due to the buildup of leukemia cells in areas throughout the body.
Symptoms Caused by the Spreading of AML
Spread to the skin
Because AML begins in the bone marrow, there is no initial tumor. Over time, there can be a buildup of leukemia cells on the surface of the skin or in other parts of the body. This is called myeloid sarcoma.
Spread to the gums
If AML spreads to the gums it will cause swelling, soreness and bleeding
Spread to the nervous system
If AML spreads to the brain or the spinal cord symptoms may include:
- Trouble with balance
- Facial numbness
- Blurred vision
Spread to the lymph nodes
The lymph nodes are small collections of immune cells (about the size of a bean) that are found throughout the body. If the AML spreads to the lymph nodes, it can cause inflammation in these areas:
- Above the collarbone
It may feel like there are lumps under the skin in these areas.