Hairy cell leukemia is a slowly progressing condition, so individuals that have developed the condition may not show any symptoms for a long period of time. In some case, that the individual has developed the condition is discovered on accident when the results of a routine blood test come back as abnormal. Hairy cell leukemia can be treated in a number of ways after the condition has been positively diagnosed and the treatments may be able to manage the condition effectively for a number of years. The goal of treatment is not to cure the condition as there is no reliable cure available, but to alleviate the symptoms of the condition and improve the individual’s quality of life.
When symptoms of hairy cell leukemia appear, they are often mistaken for the symptoms of another, less serious condition or common cold. The initial symptoms that may appear include fever, fatigue, and a general feeling of weakness. After a short while, the individual may experience loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss. These symptoms may be dismissed as something that will go away on its own or with over the counter medications, but the length of time that these symptoms last normally prompts the individual to schedule a doctor’s visit to determine the cause of the symptoms and why they will not go away.
As hairy cell leukemia progresses, more symptoms and signs of the condition appear. As the level of abnormal white blood cells in the body increases, it takes up the room needed by the healthy blood cells to do the things that they were created to do. As the red blood cells are crowded out of the system, the individual begins to experience muscle weakness, fatigue, pale skin, and shortness of breath. This is due to a lack of oxygen in the blood, a condition known as anemia. Anemia can be a life-threatening situation as the major systems of the body become starved of oxygen and begin to shut down. Individuals with anemia may need regular blood transfusions to combat the effects of the disorder.
When the blood cells affected by hairy cell leukemia begin to take up the room needed by the white blood cells, the body becomes unable to fight infections. White blood cells are the soldiers of the body, patrolling and attacking any foreign bodies that they find. Many common infectious agents multiply rapidly and if the body is unable to fight off the infection, the individual can become very ill very quickly. Even the introduction of a few infectious cells may be enough to make the individual extremely ill. Individuals with a low white blood cell count due to hairy cell leukemia become sick more often and for longer periods of time than individuals with proper white blood cell counts.
Low levels of platelets in the blood due to an abundance of cells corrupted by hairy cell leukemia means that the body will be unable to heal properly from wounds. The platelets in the blood is what causes blood to clot and the edges of the wound to bind together to heal. If there are not enough platelets in the blood to restrict bleeding, the smallest wounds become life-threatening as blood will continuously leak from the wound. Low levels of platelets in the blood may also cause bruising without trauma, frequent nosebleeds, bleeding from the gums, and tiny pools of blood collecting in the pores of the skin. If any of these symptoms of advanced hairy cell leukemia appears, medical treatment should be sough immediately.
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