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Adult-Onset Leukemia Symptoms

By Patricia Nevins, RN, MSN ; Updated August 14, 2017

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society notes that the blood cancer leukemia strikes adults 10 times more often than children, with the average age of onset of adult leukemia at 67 years. A cancer of the bone marrow, adult-onset leukemia interferes with the bone marrow's production of white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. The abnormal number and function of these blood cells cause the symptoms of adult-onset leukemia.

Fatigue

In leukemia, the cancer cells invade the bone marrow and reduce the production of healthy white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. A patient will have many blood cells but the cells are immature and incapable or proper function. Red blood cells carry oxygen and a shortage of red blood cells means a shortage of oxygen to the body’s tissues. Muscles weaken quickly. Simple activities like dressing or bathing tire a leukemic patient.

Shortness of Breath

Adult-onset acute leukemia symptoms include shortness of breath. Another side effect of not enough red blood cells, patients feel air hungry because of the low blood oxygen levels. The respiratory rate increases in an attempt to compensate for the low number of red blood cells. However, symptoms of shortness of breath occur even with mild exertion. Patients should spread out daily activities to conserve energy and preserve respiratory function.

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Poor Healing

A low white blood cell count weakens the immune system. Patients notice that wounds like cuts and scrapes have difficulty healing and take a long time to heal. Patients should support immune function by washing hands frequently, eating a balanced diet rich in vitamin C and see a health care provider for any wounds with delayed healing.

Infections

In addition to poor wound healing, low white blood cell counts caused by adult-onset leukemia make patients vulnerable to many infections. Pneumonia caused by the organisms Pneumocystis carinii and Hemophilus influenza, infections associated with immunocompromized patients, can be fatal to leukemia patients.

Bleeding

Platelets are blood cells required for proper clot formation. Low platelets, called thrombocytopenia, cause easy bleeding. Patients will bruise easily and bleed longer than normal even with applied pressure. Patients experience bleeding from the gums while brushing and flossing teeth.

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