The symptoms of MDS vary from person to person. Specific symptoms depend on which of your blood cell types are affected and how low your blood counts have fallen.

Low Red Blood Cell Counts

A low red blood cell count is called anemia. If you have a low red blood cell count, you may:

  • Feel a little tired or very tired
  • Feel less alert or have trouble concentrating
  • Have a loss of appetite or lose weight
  • Have paler-than-normal skin
  • Have trouble breathing
  • Have rapid heartbeat
  • Have difficulty exercising or climbing stairs

Anemia is often the first symptom that a person with MDS develops. It is what usually alerts the doctor that something may be wrong. In the early stages of MDS, a person may have very mild symptoms or none at all. As red cell counts go lower, more symptoms develop.

Low White Blood Cell Counts

A low white blood cell count is called neutropenia. If you have a low white blood cell count, you may:

  • Have repeated fevers and infections
  • Get bladder infections that make it painful to urinate or make you urinate more often
  • Get lung infections that cause coughing and difficulty breathing
  • Get mouth sores
  • Get sinus infections and a stuffy nose
  • Get skin infections

In general, a low white cell count lowers an MDS patient’s ability to fight bacterial infections. A fever often accompanies these infections and may be a first sign that there is a problem.

Low Platelet Counts

A low platelet count is called thrombocytopenia. If you have a low platelet count, you may:

  • Bruise or bleed more easily, even from minor scrapes and bumps
  • Get heavier than normal menstrual periods
  • Get nose bleeds
  • Get tiny, flat red spots under your skin (petechiae) caused by bleeding
  • Have bleeding gums, especially after dental work or from brushing your teeth.

If platelet counts are not too low, there may be no obvious symptoms. In rare cases, the number of platelets can get so low that dangerous internal bleeding occurs.

Bleeding that will not stop is a medical emergency. An MDS patient needs to seek immediate medical help if they have bleeding that can’t be stopped by usual methods, such as applying pressure to the area.