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Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) symptoms and tests

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Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) symptoms

There are several symptoms of AML, and it’s important to remember that not everyone will get every symptom of leukaemia – each patient is different.

The most common symptoms seen in people who have AML are listed below. These symptoms can happen because the cancer cells are stopping your normal blood cell production.

Tiredness

This is caused by a lack of red blood cells, which results in a lack of haemoglobin (the protein which carries oxygen). This is called anaemia.

This causes:

  • tiredness or lack of energy, which you feel much more than usual
  • breathlessness, which you might notice when you try to do something like walking, shopping or housework
  • chest pain, although this is a rarer symptom.

Bruising and bleeding

This is caused by a low platelet count in your blood. This can result in:

  • being more prone to bruising, which may occur without experiencing any bumps or knocks
  • bleeding from your gums – we can all bleed sometimes when we brush our teeth, but this is more bleeding than you’d usually get.

Sometimes, you might not notice bleeding in other body parts because it’s somewhere you can’t see, like inside your gut. In this case, you may not notice blood in your poo – your poos could just be very black and tarry.

Infections

Infections are caused by a low white blood cell count. This can result in:

  • fever
  • infections such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections or gastroenteritis
  • chest pain, although this is a rarer symptom.

Weight loss

We don’t fully understand the link between AML and weight loss, although we do know it’s caused by a high metabolism (when your body is quick at changing the food you eat into energy). Sometimes, you can lose weight without changing your diet.

Other symptoms

There are some other, less common, symptoms of AML. These other symptoms include lumps and bumps on your body, known as swollen lymph nodes. Your lymph nodes are bean-shaped organs in several places in the body, including your neck, armpit and groin, that act as filters to catch viruses, bacteria and other foreign materials.

Sometimes patients can also develop chloromas. These happen when a lump of leukaemia cells, known as a nodule, collect within the skin to form a tumour. This is a rare symptom – only 2–3% of people with AML (two to three people in a hundred) are affected by chloromas. If you have a chloroma, your doctor will seek a specialist opinion.

Dawn, support line worker

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