What is Multiple Myeloma? What are the Symptoms & Risk Factors

Geraldine Ferraro lost her battle with multiple myeloma this week. The political powerhouse who was also a teacher, a lawyer, a writer and a mother had been fighting multiple myeloma for the last twelve years. But as many heard the news today of her passing, a large percentage wondered what multiple myeloma was in the first place.   What is this serious disease and what are the symptoms and risk factors and should you worry about it for you and your family?

Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that is caused by malignant plasma cells. Our plasma cells those that are normal are found in our bone marrow and play a big part in our immune system. When someone has multiple myeloma there is an overgrowth of plasma cells in the bone marrow and can basically “crowd out the normal blood-forming cells.”  Anemia occurs which is a shortage of red blood cells. Also someone suffering from the disease can have the condition leukopenia which is a shortage of white blood cells, therefore making it harder for them to fight infections.

As for symptoms, it greatly varies from person to person. As the onset of the cancer processes the following are some of the symptoms that they may be struck with:

- Pain in bones like in the back, pelvis, head and ribs.

- The patient will have the presence of abnormal proteins that can be discovered in blood and urine testing.

- High levels of calcium in the blood, which happens when the bones affected by the disease dissolves into the blood stream which results in a strong  thirst, frequent urination, constipation, loss of appetite, nausea and confusion.
Other symptoms include anemia-related fatigue, odd bone fractures, getting frequent infections like sinusitis, bladder and kidney infections, pneumonia among others, losing weight and getting weakness in your legs.

Some of the risk factors that increase the odds of having the disease include being over the age of fifty, men get it more than women, the black community is twice as likely to develop it, and being overweight seems to be a factor as well.  Exposure to radiation also increases the odds.

But as we can see with Geraldine Ferraro, you can be out of the standard profile and still get the disease.  Were you familiar with Multiple myeloma before Ferraro’s passing?

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