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Signs and Symptoms

Leukemia-related symptoms vary depending on the kind of leukemia.

Acute leukemia is often diagnosed because the affected person feels ill. The person may have symptoms related to not having enough normal blood cells, such as:

  • Weakness, shortness of breath, and pale skin due to a lack of red blood cells (anemia)
  • Bleeding and bruising due to a lack of platelets (thrombocytopenia)
  • Fever and infections due to a lack of normal infection-fighting white blood cells (leukopenia)

Those with acute leukemia may also have signs and symptoms related to accumulations of immature white blood cells, such as:

  • Bone and joint pain
  • Enlarged lymph nodes, spleen, liver, kidneys, and/or testicles
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion and seizures (when excess cells collect in the brain or central nervous system)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Night sweats

Chronic leukemias often progress slowly and may be found by a health practitioner during a routine check-up before any symptoms are noticed or may cause milder forms of the same symptoms noticed with acute leukemia. Some cases may be monitored for years before they require treatment, while others may be more aggressive. If leukemia cells begin dividing more quickly, they may cause a blast crisis, where leukemia becomes acute, leading to the production of only immature cells and a rapidly worsening condition. Chronic leukemia symptoms include:

  • Feeling tired or rundown
  • Unexplained loss of weight or appetite
  • Shortness of breath during normal physical activity
  • Pale skin
  • Pain or discomfort on the upper left side of the stomach (caused by an enlarged spleen)
  • Night sweats
  • Bleeding easily
  • Fever

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