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Symptoms of Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)

Symptoms may not be present in early stages of MDS, but will appear as the disease progresses. If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to MDS. Many of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions, like an iron deficiency or infection. It is still important to discuss these symptoms with your doctor. Early detection and treatment improve outcomes for both MDS and other health conditions.

Symptoms Related to Decreases in Normal Blood Cells

Symptoms are mainly related to the low numbers of a particular blood cell. Each blood cell has a specific function in the body, so if they are not in a range that is considered normal, symptoms will appear.

Low Red Blood Cell Count

The most common complication is anemia. It is because of a drop in the number of normal red blood cells, which decrease the body's ability to bring oxygen to body tissue. Symptoms of anemia may include:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Pale skin
  • Lightheadedness
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Mood changes

In people with coronary artery disease, anemia may cause:

  • Angina—Lack of blood flow to the heart muscle causes a feeling of squeezing or pressure in the chest.
  • Heart failure—Fluid pools in the liver, lungs, and other parts of the body because the heart cannot pump the necessary amount of blood through the body. The first signs include swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs.

In people with a history of blood vessel problems in the brain, anemia may increase the risk of:

  • Transient ischemic attacks (TIA)—Temporary brain dysfunction due to a shortage of blood and oxygen. Even though symptoms resolve, it is important to follow up with your doctor. TIA increases the risk of a stroke.
  • Stroke or stroke-like symptoms—This may include weakness or numbness on one side of the body, lightheadedness, difficulty swallowing, and mental confusion
Low White Blood Cell Count

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

  • Persistent fever that is not specific to another condition
  • Frequent infections like colds or sinus infections
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Slow healing of minor cuts
Low Platelet Count

A drop in the number of normal platelet cells makes it harder for blood to clot properly. Without clotting, even small injuries can lead to severe bleeding. Symptoms may include:

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

Revision Information

  • General information about myelodysplastic syndromes. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Updated August 12, 2015. Accessed June 22, 2016.

  • Myelodysplastic syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated May 16, 2016. Accessed June 21, 2016.

  • Myelodysplastic syndrome. Merck Manual Professional Version website Available at: Updated October 2014. Accessed June 22, 2016.

  • Myelodysplastic syndromes. American Cancer Society website. Available at: Accessed June 22, 2016.

  • Understanding myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS). MDS Foundation website. Available at: Accessed June 22, 2016.