Leukemia is a cancer that causes your white blood cells to grow abnormally. There are different types of leukemia that will produce different symptoms. In fact, some types of leukemia may not cause any symptoms at all, while others may produce very severe ones.
Many of the typical symptoms of leukemia are very general, and therefore it can be difficult to know if you are experiencing simple flu symptoms, or something much more serious. Therefore, it is important to see your doctor if any of the following symptoms are persistent or begin to interfere with your daily life.
- Pain and tenderness in bones and/or joints
- Bleeding and bruising easily
- Swollen lymph nodes
Enlarged spleen or liver
- Unexplainable weight loss
- Excessive tiredness, fatigue, and weakness
- Recurrent nosebleeds
- Frequent infections that can be severe
- Petechiae (tiny red spots on your skin)
If your family doctor notices any worrying signs or symptoms, they will probably refer you to a hematologist, which is a doctor who specializes in diseases of the blood and bone marrow. Before going to your appointment, it is important to be prepared. There are some things you can do beforehand to make sure to get the most out of your time with them.
Make sure to write down all of your symptoms, including any that you may think are unrelated, to ensure that your doctor is receiving all necessary information before making a diagnosis. Also, be sure to ask if there’s anything you need to do in advance of the appointment, such as restrict your diet. Finally, make a list of all medications you are currently taking, including vitamins or supplements, as these could have side effects that are causing some of your symptoms. It is also a good idea to bring along a family member or friend to your appointment because it can be difficult to remember all of the information provided during an appointment on your own.
Sometimes, doctors are able to detect leukemia using a routine blood test before symptoms even begin. However, if you are showing signs and symptoms of leukemia, your doctor will probably recommend the following exams in order to make an accurate diagnosis.
Physical exam: Initially, your doctor will try to detect obvious physical signs of leukemia, such as pale skin caused by anemia, swollen lymph nodes, and an enlarged spleen or liver.
Blood tests: Your doctor will probably take a sample of your blood if they suspect you might have leukemia. If your blood sample shows abnormal levels of white blood cells or platelets, this is a good indication of leukemia.
Bone marrow test: For a definitive test, your doctor will recommend a procedure that involves removing a sample of bone marrow from your hip bone. The sample is tested for leukemia cells, and can help determine which type of leukemia you have. This information will be used to decide how your doctor wants to approach your treatment plan.
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