Leukemia is called acute or chronic based on how fast symptoms appear. Acute leukemia symptoms appear quickly and may prompt a visit to the doctor. Chronic leukemia appears much more slowly. Some people may notice symptoms months or years after it is found. Others may not have symptoms at all. In people without them, leukemia may be found during a routine blood test.

If you have these, do not think it is because of leukemia. Other, less serious conditions can cause these problems. But, you should still talk to your doctor about them. Finding and treating the cause early will improve the chances for a cure.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms will depend on the type of blood cells that are affected.

A drop in the number of normal white blood cells makes it harder for the body to fight infection and may lead to:

  • Lasting fever that is not caused by a health condition
  • Flu like symptoms
  • Night sweats
  • Minor cuts that heal slowly—the area around the cut may become red and swollen

A drop in the number of normal red blood cells is called anemia. This lowers the amount of oxygen reaching the body's tissues. This can lead to:

  • Feeling week and tired
  • Pale skin
  • Headaches

A drop in the number of normal platelets makes it harder for blood to clot. If the blood does not clot, even small injuries can lead to severe bleeding. Problems may include:

  • Bleeding or bruising easily
  • Nosebleeds
  • Bleeding gums
  • Tiny red spots under the skin
  • Heavy monthly periods

Later Stage Symptoms

Common symptoms include:

  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes
  • Swelling of the liver or spleen
  • Puffy gums
  • Rash
  • Less hunger and unplanned weight loss
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling of the testicles
  • Nervous system problems such as:
    • Headaches
    • Nausea
    • Loss of muscle control
    • Seizures

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia/lymphoma (ALL). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116388/Acute-lymphoblastic-leukemia-lymphoma-ALL. Updated October 17, 2018. Accessed March 13, 2019.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114798/Acute-myeloid-leukemia-AML. Updated August 14, 2018. March 13, 2019.

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)/small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114637/Chronic-lymphocytic-leukemia-CLL-Small-lymphocytic-leukemia-SLL. Updated November 21, 2017. Accessed March 13, 2019.

Chronic myeloid leukemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115889/Chronic-myeloid-leukemia-CML. Updated January 4, 2018. Accessed March 13, 2019.

Davis AS, Viera AJ, Mead MD. Leukemia: an overview for primary care. Am Fam Physician. 2014;89(9):731-738.

Overview of leukemia. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/hematology-and-oncology/leukemias/overview-of-leukemia. Updated December 2018. Accessed March 13, 2019.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 3/13/2019