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Signs and Symptoms

Acute leukaemia is often diagnosed because the patient feels ill. They may have symptoms related to not having enough normal cells, such as:

  • Weakness, shortness of breath and anaemia due to a lack of red blood cells (which carry oxygen to the body's tissues)
  • Bleeding and bruising due to a lack of platelets (which are cell fragments that the body uses in the clotting process to plug holes in leaking blood vessels)
  • Recurrent infections due to a lack of normal infection fighting WBCs.

Those with acute leukaemia 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 testicles; and headaches, vomiting, confusion, and seizures (when excess cells collect in the brain or central nervous system). They may also experience fever, weight loss, and night sweats.

Chronic leukaemias often progress slowly and may be found by the doctor during a routine check-up before any symptoms are noticed, or they may cause milder forms of the same symptoms noticed with acute leukaemia. The rate at which they progress depends on the patient. CLL may be monitored for decades and never require treatment, but usually progresses slowly to cause symptoms and may do quickly. CML always requires treatment when diagnosed. The abnormal cell that is producing the chronic leukaemia may also become unstable. Further changes in the cell may cause a blast crisis (becoming an acute leukaemia) leading to the production of only immature cells and a rapidly worsening condition.

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