Nausea or vomiting as a symptom of leukaemia

Nausea and vomiting are normal things to experience when ill. However, in combination with other symptoms, they could also indicate a leukaemia

What is nausea or vomiting?

Nausea (the unpleasant sensation of feeling sick) and vomiting (the act of being sick) are experienced by everyone at some point, and most of the time the uneasy feeling will pass within 24 hours. Lots of things can cause you to feel sick, ranging anywhere from the flu, food poisoning and migraines, to pregnancy or motion sickness. In very rare cases, prolonged or recurring nausea can be a sign of something more serious such as leukaemia. According to our 2018 patient survey, 5% of leukaemia patients will experience nausea or vomiting as a symptom prior to their diagnosis.

“I started vomiting regularly and barely eating anything. Many days, I could barely move for the exhaustion and dizziness.”

What causes nausea in leukaemia?

  1. Leukaemia cells entering the Central Nervous System (CNS)

Leukaemia can cause your white blood cell count to rise to a dangerously high level. Excess levels of white blood cells can cause the blood to thicken and clog up the small vessels that supply the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid). As well as nausea, this can also lead to symptoms such as headaches, double vision, vertigo, weakness, and sometimes seizures.

  1. Anaemia

In leukaemia, cancerous white blood cells can start to crowd out the healthy red blood cells in the bone marrow, causing anaemia. This means that a lower amount of oxygen is able to reach the tissues, including the brain. Low levels of oxygen in the brain can cause the surrounding arteries to swell, leading to headaches and dizziness which itself can result in feelings of nausea.

Other symptoms of leukaemia-related anaemia include weakness and fatigue, breathlessness, pale skin and poor concentration.

When should I be concerned?

If you are having constant or recurrent episodes of nausea or vomiting, it is a good idea to visit your GP, especially if you cannot explain the cause. Keeping a log of when you start to feel nauseous might give doctor a better idea of the underlying problem. For example, nausea or vomiting less than eight hours after a meal could indicate food poisoning. In leukaemia, symptoms are unlikely to correlate with when or what you have eaten.

Visit your GP if;

  • You aren’t feeling better after a few days –Visit your GP if symptoms last for over 48 hours (adults). Young children should be taken to their GP sooner than this.

“I started to vomit and made an appointment at the doctors to see if I had a stomach bug.”

  • The sickness feeling keeps returning –If you have had frequent periods of nausea, over the space of a month, make sure you visit your GP.

“Nearer to my diagnosis, I started feeling sick and vomiting regularly”

  • You are experiencing any of the other symptoms of leukaemia-   other symptoms of leukaemia can include weight loss, bruising and bleeding, frequent infections and pain in bones or joints.

“I was also out of breath and started being sick so much it broke blood vessels in my face.”

Knowing what other symptoms are typical of leukaemia is crucial for helping you to 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.


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