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Conditions That Can Look Like Multiple Myeloma

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 19, 2021

Multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in white blood cells in your bone marrow, can be tricky. That’s because it sometimes has no symptoms. Or the signs look like other illnesses. You might think something else is causing your problems.

Arthritis

This condition causes joint pain or joint disease. Osteoarthritis is the most common type. It happens when the cartilage in your joints (where your bones connect) wears down. This can lead to bone damage. Symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling

Bone pain is common in people with multiple myeloma. It happens when myeloma cells damage or thin the bones where they grow. You typically feel it in your back or ribs, but it can affect any bone.

Rheumatoid arthritis, which affects the joints of your hands and wrists, might also be mistaken for multiple myeloma.

Back Injury

Lots of things can cause back pain or injury, including:

Symptoms range from a dull ache to burning or stabbing sensations. Or weakness, numbness, or tingling. You might also have pain that spreads down one or both of your legs.

If multiple myeloma weakens your backbone (vertebrae) too much, it can fold. If the vertebrae then press against your spinal cord or pinch a nerve coming from your spine, you may feel sudden and severe back pain. Your legs may also feel weak and numb.

Pneumonia

This serious infection affects the air sacs in your lungs. It fills them with fluid, which makes it harder to breathe. It can also lead to fever and chills.

People with multiple myeloma have weaker immune systems. Fighting off infections -- especially in your nose, throat, or lungs -- is more difficult. So you may come down with fever or other flu-like symptoms.

Kidney Disease

Your kidneys clean the blood and turn waste into pee. But they don’t work as well when you have kidney disease. Some common symptoms include:

Myeloma cells make abnormal antibodies, or proteins, in your blood or pee. This may make your kidneys less able to get rid of waste products and lead to similar symptoms.

Amyloidosis

This rare condition happens when too much of an abnormal protein called amyloid builds up in your organs. Because of this, they can’t work the way they’re supposed to.

Multiple myeloma can deposit high volumes of certain proteins in some organs and cause damage. Your heart, kidneys, liver, and tongue may be affected.

Diabetes

You get this condition when your body can’t process glucose, or sugar, the right way. Some of the symptoms are similar to those of multiple myeloma and include:

  • Thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Infections that keep coming back

Lyme Disease

Ticks can spread this disease when they bite you. Some of the symptoms are the same as multiple myeloma, including:

  • Fever and other flu-like symptoms
  • Fatigue
  • Joint pain

Hypercalcemia

This condition happens when your blood’s calcium levels are too high. It’s usually caused by overactive parathyroid glands. They’re in the front of your neck. Symptoms can include:

Bone pain is also a symptom. That’s because the extra calcium was likely “stolen” from your bones, weakening them.

As multiple myeloma breaks your bones down, you often end up with too much calcium in your blood. And as mentioned before, this can also lead to bone pain.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Multiple Myeloma,” “Type 2 diabetes,” “Lyme disease,” “Osteoarthritis,” “Pneumonia,” “Chronic kidney disease,” “Amyloidosis,” “Hypercalcemia,” “Back pain.”

National Organization for Rare Disorders: “Multiple Myeloma.”

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Multiple Myeloma: Symptoms and Signs.”

American Cancer Society: “Signs and Symptoms of Multiple Myeloma.”

Case Reports in Rheumatology: “A Case of Multiple Myeloma Misdiagnosed as Seronegative Rheumatoid Arthritis and Review of Relevant Literature.”

Weill Cornell Medicine Myeloma Center: “Myeloma, the Flu, and You.”

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