Side Effects of Acute Myeloid Leukemia Treatment

Reviewed by Kumar Shital, DO on March 19, 2021

When it comes to side effects from treatment for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), everyone's different. How your body reacts depends on what type of treatment you get, the dose, and how long your therapy goes on. There are some common things to watch out for, though, and plenty of ways to manage problems that crop up.


AML treatments -- like chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, or a bone marrow transplant -- can often make you feel tired.

Talk to your doctor about tests that can find out if your fatigue has another cause, like anemia, thyroid problems, pain, infection, or depression.

Keep track of the times of day when you're most tired so you and your doctor can pick up on patterns and diagnose the root cause of your exhaustion. You may also need nutritional counseling to help improve your diet, or gentle exercise for a natural energy boost.

Hair Loss

Losing your hair during chemotherapy is common, but it's also temporary. When your treatment ends, your hair will grow back.


In the meantime, try these steps:

  • Cut your hair short or shave it instead of waiting for it to fall out.
  • Use snipped-off locks to help find a wig close to the shade and texture of your natural hair.
  • Wear colorful scarves or hats to keep your head warm.
  • Moisturize your scalp with lotion or oil to prevent itchiness and dryness.


Nausea and Vomiting

Chemotherapy and targeted therapy can give you stomach trouble. But even if you're not in the mood for food because you feel nauseated, it's important to eat to keep up your strength. Your doctor may be able to prescribe anti-nausea medication to curb your queasiness and settle your tummy.

You can also:

  • Avoid food when you're feeling at your worst.
  • Stay away from fried or fatty foods.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Practice relaxation techniques, like stretching, meditation, or deep breathing.
  • Try crystallized ginger, ginger tea, or ginger ale.


Diarrhea or Constipation

You may be able to keep diarrhea at bay by taking over-the-counter or prescription anti-diarrhea medications.


Loose stools that are serious enough to cause dehydration may mean a trip to the hospital for an IV of fluids. Make sure to drink enough to help replace liquids in your body if you're dealing with diarrhea.

If you're someone who often gets constipation, AML treatment may ramp it up. Get plenty of fiber and water throughout the day to keep things flowing. You can also ask your doctor if a laxative might help.

Mouth Sores

You may start feeling painful ulcers in the lining of your mouth 5 to 10 days after treatment starts. Ask your doctor about mouthwash to prevent infection, or painkillers to curb discomfort.

To keep your mouth healthy during treatment, you should also:
Clean your teeth after each meal.

  • Floss gently (but don't floss if you have a low platelet count).
  • Skip salty and spicy foods, tobacco, vinegar, garlic, and onion.
  • Add gravy or sauce to food so it slides down easier.
  • Avoid citrus fruits with lots of acid, like lemons, grapefruit, and oranges.



Watch for signs of infection during treatment, such as:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Achiness
  • Sore throat or cough
  • Shivering
  • Pain when you pee

Your doctor may need to prescribe antibiotics. If the infection is in your blood, you might need to go to the hospital so you can get the medicine through an IV.

Brain Fog

You might find yourself having trouble with some mental tasks during chemo. It's a side effect known as "chemo brain." You could notice problems with:

  • Concentrating
  • Multitasking
  • Remembering information

If it happens to you, give yourself more time than you usually do to complete tasks, and jot down important information you need to know later.

Assign a spot for things like your shoes, keys, wallet, and medications, so you don't spend mental energy trying to remember where you left them.

WebMD Medical Reference



Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: "Managing Side Effects."

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML): Chemotherapy."

Cancer Research UK: "Side effects of treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML)."

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