Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) starts in the bone marrow -- the spongy tissue inside your bones where blood cells are made. The disease prevents immature blood cells from growing into healthy blood cells. You have three main types of blood cells:
- White blood cells fight infections.
- Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body.
- Platelets clot your blood when you're injured.
In the early stages of AML, as your body makes fewer healthy blood cells, you might feel like you've come down with the flu or another illness. Symptoms can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Night sweats
A lot of other things can cause those symptoms, too. So you and your doctor would work together to find the cause.
Symptoms by AML Type
There are several forms of AML. Each affects a different kind of blood cell. The symptoms you have depend on the type of blood cell that's affected.
If you have fewer healthy red blood cells than normal, you'll have symptoms like these:
- Pale skin
- Irregular heartbeat
- Cold hands and feet
- Shortness of breath
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
If you have fewer healthy white blood cells than normal, you may get more infections than usual. These infections may take a long time to get better.
Infections can cause symptoms like these:
If you have fewer platelets than usual, your blood may not clot as well as it should. You might have symptoms like these:
- Easy bruising
- Bleeding that can be hard to stop
- Bleeding gums
- Small red spots under your skin caused by bleeding
- Sores that don't heal
Symptoms When AML Spreads
Leukemia cells can spread to other parts of your body and cause symptoms like these:
See Your Doctor
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor. You might have an illness like the flu, but it's best to get checked out just in case. Your doctor will ask what symptoms you've had and for how long you've had them. You may need to get blood tests and other types of tests to diagnose AML.
Because AML affects your blood cells, it can lead to problems like these:
Anemia, in which you don’t have enough red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen to all your organs and tissues. When you have anemia, your body may not get enough oxygen. You can feel tired, weak, and short of breath as a result.
Bleeding. If your platelets are affected, your blood may not clot normally. You may bruise or bleed more easily than usual. When you cut yourself or get a nosebleed, the bleeding might not stop easily. You can also bleed inside your body, which could be serious.
Weakened immune system. The white blood cells in your immune system normally find and attack invading germs. With AML, you have fewer healthy white blood cells available to fight infections.
If your immune system is weak, you’re more likely to get infections. When you do get sick, your body will be slower to heal.
To prevent infections, your doctor might recommend that you stay away from anyone who's sick and take antibiotics regularly. Staying up to date on your vaccinations can also prevent you from getting sick, but you may not be able to take “live” vaccines like the shingles vaccine. Your doctor will know which kind of vaccines are OK for you to get.