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MDS produces few symptoms until well into the course of the disease. When symptoms finally appear, they are not at all specific for MDS and may require extensive investigation to pin down their source. Symptoms may be due to any of the three principal functions of the bone marrow: oxygen carrying, blood clotting, and controlling infection.

If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to cancer. Most of these symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your physician.

Symptoms due to Anemia

Anemia occurs when the red blood cell count drops. Symptoms of anemia include the following:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Rapid heart beat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Mood changes

In people with heart disease , anemia may cause the following:

  • Angina —This condition is characterized by pain in the chest that feels like squeezing or pressure.
  • Heart failure —This is the inability of the heart to pump the necessary amount of blood through the body, which causes fluid to pool in the liver, lungs, and other parts of the body. The first symptom is usually swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs.

In people with a history of cerebrovascular disease, anemia may increase the risk of:

  • Stroke or stroke-like symptoms—This may include weakness or numbness on one side of the body, dizziness, difficulty swallowing, and mental confusion
  • Transient ischemic attacks —Sometimes referred to as a "mini-stroke," this is temporary brain dysfunction due to a shortage of blood and oxygen.

Symptoms Due to a Bleeding Disorder

MDS may also decrease the number of platelets, which are essential for blood clotting. When blood clotting is impaired, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Bruising
  • Unusually heavy bleeding from minor cuts
  • Heavy menstrual periods
  • Bleeding from your gums
  • Nosebleeds
  • Rarely, spontaneous internal bleeding into the soft tissues or the gastrointestinal tract
  • Bleeding into the nervous system, including the back of the eyes (the retina), which can lead to blurred vision
    • Any new onset of blurred vision should be referred to your doctor right away for prompt treatment.

Symptoms Due to Infection

MDS damages your immune system, making it unable to fight off even minor infections. This may cause prolonged or progressing infections. Skin and respiratory infections are the most common.


Castro-Malaspina H, O’Reilly RJ. Aplastic anemia and the myelodysplastic syndromes. In: Kasper DL, Harrison TR. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 1998.

Silverman LR. Myelodysplastic syndrome. American Cancer Society website. Available at: . Accessed November 30, 2002.

Last reviewed December 2014 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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