Multiple myeloma – Symptoms, causes, and risk factors

Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer that originates in the white blood cells known as plasma cells. These cells are responsible for producing antibodies that ward off any infections. However, when one is affected by multiple myeloma, the rogue cells begin to rapidly divide and accumulate in the bone marrow, where they overpower the healthy cells. Instead of making antibodies, these cancerous cells create abnormal proteins that trigger several health complications.

Signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma
Identifying the signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma isn’t always easy. In the initial stages, one may experience no symptoms. As the condition progresses, the symptoms might start exhibiting. It is also important to note that every patient’s signs and symptoms will significantly vary from another’s.

The following are some of the most common signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma:

  • Frequent infections: Since there are fewer cells in the body producing antibodies, a person might have to frequently deal with infections.
  • Fatigue: As the rogue cells replace the healthy ones in the bone marrow, it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to fight infections. Consequently, the body tires easily.
  • Weak bones: This condition can inhibit the generation of new bone cells, which can further cause bone problems such as weakened bones, bone pain, and increased susceptibility to bone injuries.
  • Kidney damage: The proteins supplied by these cancerous cells can cause the kidneys to malfunction, and can even lead to complete failure.
  • Low blood count: The myeloma cells will subdue the function and production of healthy blood cells. Eventually, this will cause anemia (low levels of red blood cells) and leukopenia (low levels of white blood cells).

Nausea, weight loss, constipation, dizziness, confusion, weakness and numbness in the legs, swelling of the legs, frequent urination, abdominal or back pain, and increased thirst are some additional signs of multiple myeloma.

For people who aren’t experiencing any signs and symptoms of multiple myeloma, treatment might not be necessary.

Causes of multiple myeloma
The exact cause of this disease is still not discovered. Researchers suggest that it starts with one abnormal plasma cell that swiftly multiplies in the bone marrow. In most cases, multiple myeloma is observed among people with a benign condition known as monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). Like multiple myeloma, MGUS is also characterized by the presence of M proteins that are produced by abnormal plasma cells. However, the levels of M proteins in MGUS are extremely low, so it is not capable of causing any serious damage.

Some other factors that amplify the risk of developing multiple myeloma are stated below:

  • Older age: The risk of this condition magnifies as one ages. Typically, most individuals diagnosed with multiple myeloma are above the age of 60 years.
  • Gender: As compared to women, men are more likely to suffer from multiple myeloma.
  • African-American ethnicity: People belonging to the African-American ethnicity are more likely to be affected by multiple myeloma.
  • Family history: If one’s parent or sibling has multiple myeloma, the chances of developing multiple myeloma are heightened for the individual.