Managing Multiple Myeloma Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects

Judi Ebbert, PhD, MPH, RN | Jan 26, 2017

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A diagnosis of multiple myeloma can trigger feelings of fear and helplessness. The good news is that rapid treatment advances are increasing survival and quality of life. Even better, a person who has multiple myeloma can make lifestyle changes to enhance comfort and well-being. The following frames provide information and resources for action.

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Understand symptoms versus side effects

Symptoms are caused by the disease itself, and side effects are the result of treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and stem cell transplants. While symptoms and side effects vary for everyone who has multiple myeloma, helpful strategies can be used by all with the disease to improve quality of life.

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Know multiple myeloma symptoms

Among the symptoms listed by the MMRF are bone pain or breaks, increased infection risk, changed urination, cycles of restlessness and fatigue, anemia, confusion, increased thirst, nausea and vomiting, poor appetite with weight loss, and impaired kidney function. Treatment will relieve many of these symptoms but may cause side effects.

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Recognize treatment side effects

Treatment side effects can mimic disease symptoms and introduce temporary complications such as mouth sores, insomnia, hair loss, and neuropathy. That’s why it’s important to tell the doctor about discomfort and ask about remedies to resolve side effects. It’s also important to be aware of the impact of lifestyle changes.

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Be careful with dietary supplements

Bone loss releases calcium into the blood, thus calcium supplements can be harmful if too much calcium is already in circulating blood. Some vitamins interfere with chemotherapy. Vitamin D without calcium has helped some people, but don’t take vitamin supplements before discussion with a doctor or dietitian who is part of the medical team.

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Eat to feel better

Dietary recommendations for someone with multiple myeloma are much like the guidelines for everyone who seeks eating for optimal health. Include an array of deeply colored fruits and vegetables, lean protein, minimal fats, and very little salt and sugar.

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Eat food that boosts chemo’s effectiveness

Two omega-3 fatty acids, (EPA) and (DHA), enhance chemotherapy’s ability to kill tumor cells. EPA and DHA are in cold-pressed flaxseed oil, salmon and fish oil, chia seeds, walnuts, caviar, oysters, soybeans, and spinach. For content volume in various sources and serving sizes, scroll down to the omega-3 content table at this link.

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Vegan? You can still boost chemo’s effectiveness

Research has shown that ingestion of vegetable sources doesn’t convert to beneficial amounts of EPA and DHA as effectively as fish oils—with one exception. Several studies indicate that micro-algae oil increased red blood cells and plasma DHA. Further studies are needed to determine optimal amounts of algal oils for beneficial EPA and DHA

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Prevent anemia with iron-rich foods

Anemia, caused by not having enough red blood cells, can be confirmed with a blood test. Signs of anemia are tiredness, weakness, and feeling cold. Iron, folate, and vitamin B12 can help. Iron-rich foods like lean red meat, Brussels sprouts, kale, sweet potatoes, raisins, broccoli, pineapple, mango, and guava can boost iron levels.

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Embrace pain relief strategies

Pain with multiple myeloma can come from a bone fracture or a tumor pressing on a nerve. Medical treatment may include prescription and OTC pain relievers.  The benefits of additional strategies have been proven to help. Acupuncture relieves pain. Gentle yoga helps keep muscles toned and provides peaceful distraction through meditation and relaxation.

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Relieve nausea and vomiting

Prescription drugs can help relieve chemo-caused nausea/vomiting. Aside from drugs, small meals, nongreasy foods, clear broth, and mild foods like Jell-O and rice can help. NCCIH asserts that ginger along with anti-nausea medication enhances its effectiveness. Acupuncture also is helpful.

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Exercise and hydrate

IMG advises nonstrenuous exercise such as walking or yoga to aid mobility and build muscle. Before exercising, discuss the type, frequency, and duration with a physician. Drink enough water to prevent dehydration and prevent excess blood calcium levels. For anyone with kidney damage, as indicated by medical tests, careful control of fluid intake is critical.

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Reduce infection risk

Wash hands often to reduce risk of infection, and observe food safety. Cooking kills bacteria, thus raw foods pose risk. Avoid sushi, rare meat, and raw eggs. Peel fruits such as peaches and apples, which can have bacteria on the skin. Salad greens can be risky. Cooked spinach is safer than a spinach salad. Don’t forget flu and pneumonia shots.

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Combat stress and anxiety

MMRF recommends aromatherapy, gentle massage, and meditation. Mindfulness-based stress reduction and yoga can support peace of mind. Music and art therapy can provide pleasant distraction. Being open with family, the provider team, and friends will help decrease the burden of worry and uncertainty.

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Remember that support speaks volumes!

Support groups offer tremendous benefits. Meeting with people who share the same challenges provides an opportunity to share problems and find solutions!  Being part of a like-minded community prevents loneliness and isolation. Asking the treatment team and using this tool can help people zero in on a local support group.

NEXT: How Do Stem Cell Transplants Work?