What does it feel like?
Physical fatigue is by far the most common symptom of leukaemia. However, mental fatigue is just as likely to be experienced by a patient before they are diagnosed. Mental fatigue is defined as the prolonged or recurring inability to sustain optimal cognitive performance.Some people may describe it as constantly feeling mentally drained, dizzy, or having difficulty concentrating (“brain fog”). As a standalone symptom, loss of concentration is thought to be experienced by 8% of patients before they are diagnosed.
“I ignored many of the subtle signs that I wasn’t completely well and put my tiredness or poor concentration down to ‘doing too much’.”
What causes loss of concentration in leukaemia?
An overcrowding of cancerous, leukaemia cells in the bone marrow can cause anaemia by preventing the bone marrow from efficiently producing red blood cells. Since red blood cells carry oxygen, dizziness and lack of concentration can be result from a shortage of oxygen to the brain. It can also result from low blood pressure in the vessels supplying the brain due to poor oxygenation of the heart muscles, reducing its ability to efficiently pump blood.
Anaemia is responsible for a diverse range of symptoms, many of which are also commonly associated with leukaemia. For this reason, it is extremely rare for loss of concentration to occur as a symptom on its own. Other symptoms of anaemia include;
Weakness and Fatigue– Cells in the body use the oxygen to fuel the combustion of sugar and fat, which produces the body’s energy. Without oxygen, the body cannot function properly, and this leads to the feelings of extreme tiredness, known as cancer-related fatigue.
Breathlessness – Your body will automatically try and compensate for the lack of oxygen by breathing more heavily to replenish oxygen levels from the air.
Pale skin – When oxygen binds to haemoglobin on the red blood cells, it forms a bright red substance known as oxyhaemoglobin, causing the blood to become bright red. Skin that is paler than a person’s usual complexion may occur due to the reduced amount of oxyhaemoglobin in the vessels supplying the skin.
When should I be concerned?
It is important to remember that many different things can cause fatigue and loss of concentration. More commonly it can be explained by lack of sleep, long hours at work, hormone imbalances, anxiety, depression or dietary deficiencies. However, for this reason, leukaemia can be hard to spot because the signs and symptoms are common to other unrelated problems. As a general rule, if your level of tiredness is affecting your ability to function properly and is persisting for an unusual length of time, visit your GP to gain professional opinion and rule out any underlying problem.
Knowing what other symptoms are typical of leukaemia is crucial for helping you make the decision to visit your GP sooner for a blood test. Connect the dots between the symptoms of leukaemia and spot leukaemia sooner.
For information on the other symptoms of leukaemia, click here.