Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) symptoms and tests
Symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)
There are many possible symptoms of AML, but not everyone will get every symptom.
On this page:
Why AML causes symptoms
We have different types of blood cells in our body – red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. They all do different jobs, and you need enough of each type for your body to function.
Many AML symptoms are caused by not having enough healthy blood cells of each type.
Tiredness and breathlessness
This is caused by a lack of red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. If your number of red blood cells is low, it’s called anaemia.
- tiredness, weakness or lack of energy, which you feel much more than usual
- breathlessness, which you might notice when you tryto do something like walking, shopping or housework
- feeling dizzy, light-headed or having headaches
- chest pain, although this is a rarer symptom
- paleness (pallor), which can be seen by pulling down your lower eyelid (the inside will look white or pale pink, rather than dark pink or red).
Many people with AML get fatigue – a kind of tiredness that makes you feel suddenly drained. We have more information about coping with fatigue.
Often, blood transfusions can help to treat the symptoms of anaemia.
Bruising and bleeding
This is caused by a lack of platelets, which help the blood to clot and prevent bleeding. If your number of platelets is low (also called thrombocytopenia), this can cause:
- bruising more easily, even if you haven’t had a bump or injury
- tiny spots (petechiae) or larger blotches (purpura) on the skin
- bleeding from your gums or nose
- more bleeding than expected from a cut
- heavier periods (menstrual bleeding)
- blood in your wee or poo, or very black and tarry poo
- rarely, neurological symptoms like visual changes, confusion, vomiting, loss of muscle control or seizures if there is bleeding in the brain.
Infections or fever
This is caused by a lack of healthy white blood cells, which help fight off infections in the body. Without fully functioning white blood cells, germs including bacteria, viruses and fungi (yeasts and moulds) that wouldn’t normally be a problem can become serious infections.
If you have AML and you get any symptoms of an infection (sometimes this might only be a high temperature), you should get urgent medical help, because there is a risk of developing life-threatening sepsis.
Having a low white blood cell count can cause:
- repeated infections
- infections that are hard to get rid of
- fever (high temperature)
- infections such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs) or gastroenteritis.
We have lots more information about reducing your risk of infection.
There are many different types of white blood cell, including B lymphocytes, T lymphocytes and neutrophils. Neutrophils are very important for preventing infections. If your number of neutrophils is low, this is called neutropenia.
Bone or joint pain
Some people with AML have bone pain or joint pain caused by the build-up of leukaemia cells in these areas.
If you’re worried you might have AML
Seek medical advice immediately because fast diagnosis is key. See our blood cancer symptoms guide for what symptoms to watch out for and questions to ask your doctor.
We don’t fully understand the link between AML and weight loss, but losing weight without changing your diet is a symptom of AML and other types of cancer.
If AML develops very quickly, you might suddenly have very high numbers of faulty white blood cells (leukaemia cells) in your blood. This is known as leukostasis It can cause the blood to flow less well, and blood vessels can get blocked.
This is a medical emergency that needs to be treated straight away.
Some of the symptoms are similar to those seen with stroke (neurological symptoms) and include:
- breathing problems
- loss of muscle control or seizures
- slurred speech
- vision changes
Swelling in the tummy area (abdomen)
Leukaemia cells can build up in organs like the liver and spleen, making them larger. You might notice this as a fullness or swelling of the tummy area.
Lumps (swollen glands)
Your lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped glands that are in several places in the body, including your neck, armpit and groin. They act as filters to catch viruses and bacteria. Sometimes, leukaemia cells can collect in lymph nodes, making them swollen.
A chloroma is rare symptom of AML that happens if leukaemia cells collect together and form a lump (nodule).
Get a free symptoms guide
If you have any blood cancer symptoms, use our free symptoms guide to record symptoms and show your GP.