A deficiency in erythrocytes reduces the amount of oxygen reaching all cells in the body, thus impairing all tissue and organ function. Severe fatigue is the most common symptom of anemia and is experienced by approximately 75 percent of chemotherapy patients. Patients find it more disabling than other treatment side effects, including nausea and depression.
Anemia also produces these symptoms:
- Loss of concentration
- Pallor (pale skin, nail beds, gums, linings of eyelids)
- Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
- Shortness of breath (dyspnea)
Patients with a white blood cell deficiency experience frequent and/or severe bacterial, viral, and/or fungal infections; fever; and mouth and throat ulcers.
ComplicationsBacteremia, the form of sepsis characterized by the presence of bacteria in the blood, can develop in immunocompromised patients who have neutropenia. Fever, rapid heart rate, and quick shallow breathing are signs of early sepsis, usually a reversible condition.
Untreated bacteremia can lead to severe sepsis, in which one or more organs become dysfunctional. Septic shock is severe sepsis with low blood pressure. The risk for death increases with the development of septic shock. Even aggressive treatment can fail to reverse the condition.
Platelet deficiency causes patients to bruise and bleed easily. Bleeding occurs most often in the mucous membranes lining the mouth, nose, colon, and vagina. Tiny reddish-purple skin lesions (petechiae), evidence of pinpoint hemorrhages, may appear on the skin or in the mouth.
Patients who are deficient in all blood cell types experience signs and symptoms associated with each, but bleeding from the nose and gums, and easy bruising usually appear first. Symptoms of anemia (e.g., fatigue, shortness of breath) are also common. Patients may look and feel well, otherwise, despite the seriousness of their condition.