Understanding the Symptoms of MPNs

Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) are a group of progressive blood cancers characterized by the abnormal production of blood cells in the bone marrow. Although the symptoms of MPNs typically worsen over time, it’s not unusual for MPN patients to be asymptomatic for extended durations.

Routine medical examinations are critical for all MPN patients – regardless of whether or not they are currently exhibiting symptoms. In many cases, the early identification of signs that the disease is progressing can result in improved patient outcomes for people suffering from primary myelofibrosis (MF), essential thrombocythemia (ET) and polycythemia vera (PV).

Escalating Symptoms and the Progression of MPNs 

The symptoms of MPNs vary based on the type of disease and the patient’s unique circumstances. But in general, there are a handful of symptoms to look for, since they may mark the progression of the disease:

Common Primary Myelofibrosis (MF) Symptoms 

  • Tiredness, weakness, or shortness of breath with mild exertion
  • Fullness, discomfort or pain in the left upper area of the abdomen
  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss or malnutrition
  • Bone pain 
  • Itching (pruritus)
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Susceptibility to infection
  • Joint pain or gout 
  • Portal hypertension (increased blood pressure within the portal vein)
  • Compromised liver function may be compromised as well. 
  • Abnormal growth of blood forming cells outside of the bone marrow

Common Essential Thrombocythemia (ET) Symptoms 

  • Headache
  • Vision disturbances or silent migraines 
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Coldness or blueness of fingers or toes 
  • Burning, redness, and pain in the hands and feet
  • Bleeding (e.g., easy bruising, nose bleeds, heavy periods, gastrointestinal bleeding, blood in urine)

Common Polycythemia Vera (PV) Symptoms 

  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Blurred vision or blind spots
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Reddish or purplish skin
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Bleeding or clotting
  • Early feeling of fullness (satiety)
  • Itching (pruritis), especially after taking a shower
  • Burning and redness of the hands or feet
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Night sweats
  • Bone pain

Managing the Symptoms of MPNs 

Studies on the symptoms of MPNs indicate that quality of life is significantly impacted for people with PV, ET and MF. Certain therapies have been shown to help with symptoms. These include:

  • Jakafi
  • Pegasys
  • Phlebotomy

In addition, there are some simple remedies that have proven effective in relieving symptoms like fatigue or itching for some MPN patients. Please consult with your physician before trying any new activities intended to effect your symptoms:

  • Moderate Exercise – As strange as it sounds, when you are feeling tired, one of the best things you can do is exercise. Whether it is a walk inside your home, yoga, swimming or weightlifting, consult your doctor about safely incorporating exercise in your daily routine.
  • Ritalin – Anecdotal information from patients has suggested that Ritalin can relieve the fatigue and loss of concentration associated with MPNs.
  • Short Naps – By incorporating short naps into your day, you can combat fatigue and regain mental focus.
  • Itching – Itching is a common complaint among MPN patients. In addition to moisturizing your skin, avoid dramatic temperature changes when exposing wet skin to the air.
Consult a hematologist about the best treatment options for your symptoms.

Rob doesn’t let his symptoms get in the way of running marathons.

Take the steps you need to help change your prognosis.