Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer that affects plasma cells. The main symptom of the cancer is bone pain, particularly in the lower back and ribs, although some people may not experience any symptoms. Some other conditions can appear similar to multiple myeloma, including Lyme disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and arthritis.

According to the National Cancer Institute, multiple myeloma may not cause any symptoms. If symptoms do appear, they can include:

  • bone pain, particularly in the back or ribs
  • fever
  • frequent infections
  • easy bruising and bleeding
  • bones that break more easily
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • weakness in the arms and legs

Multiple myeloma can also lead to complications that can cause other symptoms.

For instance, a complication of multiple myeloma called hypercalcemia, which is an increased level of calcium in the bloodstream, can cause excessive thirst. Some people with multiple myeloma may also experience blurry vision as a result of hyperviscosity syndrome, which is when the blood becomes sticky and thick.

Anyone who experiences symptoms similar to those of multiple myeloma should speak with a healthcare professional.

In this article, we look at several conditions that can present similarly to multiple myeloma.

A person holding their side who may have a condition similar to multiple myeloma.Share on Pinterest
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Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness in the United States. It spreads to people from infected black-legged ticks.

Some symptoms that Lyme disease has in common with multiple myeloma include:

  • fever
  • joint pain
  • rash
  • shortness of breath
  • numbness in the hands and feet
  • joint aches
  • fatigue
  • headaches

However, a person with Lyme disease will experience symptoms approximately 3–30 days after the tick bite. The symptoms will also appear in stages.

Learn more about the symptoms of Lyme disease and how they develop.

The presence of a tick can indicate that a person has developed Lyme disease rather than multiple myeloma.


Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that typically responds well to antibiotics.

Diabetes is a condition in which a person’s blood glucose levels are too high.

A person may develop type 1 diabetes when the body does not produce insulin. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body either does not produce enough insulin or does not use the insulin effectively.

The symptoms of diabetes that can overlap with the symptoms of multiple myeloma and its complications include:

  • excessive thirst
  • frequent infections
  • fatigue
  • numbness in the hands or feet
  • blurry vision

Other possible symptoms of diabetes include:

  • frequent urination
  • excessive hunger
  • dry skin
  • sores that heal slowly


The treatment for diabetes varies depending on whether a person has type 1 or type 2.

A person living with type 1 diabetes will need insulin. Some people with type 2 diabetes also need insulin, but others may be able to manage the condition with other medication or dietary changes.

Both types of diabetes can appear in children and adults. However, in most cases, people develop type 1 diabetes as a child or teenager, whereas type 2 diabetes typically develops slowly during adulthood.

It can be hard for a person to know whether they have developed type 2 diabetes, so they should speak with a doctor if they experience any unusual symptoms that could indicate diabetes.

Chronic kidney disease occurs when the kidneys gradually lose their ability to function over time.

The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) notes that kidney disease can be a complication of multiple myeloma and that it can happen as a result of hypercalcemia. In addition, the myeloma cells can produce abnormal proteins called M-proteins, which can cause kidney damage.

However, kidney damage can also occur due to various other medical conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure.

The symptoms, which usually have a slow onset, may include:

  • fatigue
  • poor appetite
  • lack of energy

A person living with chronic kidney disease is also likely to experience increased urination, which can distinguish it from multiple myeloma.

Other symptoms of kidney disease include:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • swollen feet and ankles
  • puffy eyes, particularly in the morning
  • dry, itchy skin

Learn more about the causes of kidney disease here.


The treatment options for chronic kidney disease include lifestyle changes and medication to help prevent kidney failure.

Doctors are likely to recommend that people take several steps to manage the condition. These include:

  • managing blood sugar levels
  • maintaining a healthy blood pressure level
  • exercising regularly
  • moderating alcohol intake
  • avoiding tobacco products
  • eating a diet low in fat and salt

There are more than 100 types of arthritis, all of which can cause joint pain, stiffness, or damage.

Common symptoms include:

  • decreased range of motion
  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • pain

These symptoms can come and go and range from mild to severe.

Multiple myeloma can cause pain in the lower back and other areas. It may feel similar to arthritis, which presents as swelling, pain, or stiffness in the joints and may affect several joints of varying sizes around the body.

The authors of a 2016 case study state that multiple myeloma can, in rare cases, resemble rheumatoid arthritis (RA). They describe how a 55-year-old female with multiple myeloma presented with symptoms of RA. However, the healthcare professionals noted that there was an absence of bone erosion and the narrowing of space between the joints, which are signs of RA.

The authors also point out that a mild case of hypercalcemia was the only other indication that the person did not have RA.


Arthritis treatments can vary, but they often include over-the-counter or prescription medications and heat or cold therapy.

When a person presents at the doctor’s clinic with symptoms similar to those of multiple myeloma, the diagnostic process will depend on the most likely cause:

  • Lyme disease: A healthcare professional will perform a blood test. If it is positive, they will carry out a second test using the same blood sample.
  • Diabetes: A healthcare professional will perform a variety of blood tests, including the A1C test, which measures the average blood sugar level over 2 or 3 months. They may also test a person’s blood sugar levels after fasting or before and after consuming a drink that contains liquid glucose.
  • Kidney disease: A healthcare professional will perform a blood test called a glomerular filtration rate. They will also check the urine for albumin, which is a protein that appears in the urine if the kidneys have become damaged.
  • Arthritis: A healthcare professional may perform imaging tests, such as X-rays and MRI scans. They will also perform a nerve test. Depending on the type of arthritis, they may also perform a blood test, take a tissue biopsy, and test the joint fluid.

If a doctor suspects that a person has multiple myeloma, they will need to conduct a thorough evaluation of the person’s medical history and their current symptoms.

They will also need to carry out several blood and urine tests. The tests that a doctor runs will help them determine both whether the person has the condition and, if so, what treatment options are likely to be most effective.

A person should schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional if they experience symptoms of any of the conditions in this article.

People receiving treatment for a condition that presents similarly to multiple myeloma should speak with a doctor if their symptoms get worse or do not improve.

Multiple myeloma is a rare blood cancer that affects the plasma cells. The American Cancer Society explains that the cancer occurs when plasma cells in the bone marrow grow out of control.

The increased growth of plasma cells, which ordinarily play a role in the immune system, causes other blood cells that the bone marrow produces — such as platelets and red and white blood cells — to decrease in number.

The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation notes that this can lead to:

  • a weakened immune system
  • anemia
  • bone damage
  • excessive bleeding
  • a buildup of M-proteins, which can affect the kidneys or other organs

According to the NORD, the main symptom of multiple myeloma is bone pain, which primarily affects the ribs and lower back. The pain may worsen during movement.

The other symptoms can vary widely, as they typically result from complications of multiple myeloma. However, they may include those below:

Complication DefinitionSymptoms
Spinal cord compressionWhen the cancer affects the bones, it can cause partial collapse.• pain
• weakness
• numbness in the legs and arms
HypercalcemiaHigh calcium levels that occur when the damage to the bones leads to the release of calcium into the blood.• nausea
• low appetite
• abdominal pain
• muscle pain and weakness
• excessive thirst
• confusion
AnemiaThe overproduction of plasma cells can decrease the production of other cells, such as red blood cells.• fatigue
• weakness
• dizziness
• shortness of breath
ThrombocytopeniaA person with thrombocytopenia has low levels of cells that help with clotting.abnormal bleeding, resulting in discoloration of the skin, such as bruising
Hyperviscosity syndromeThe blood becomes thick and sticky.• headaches
• nose bleeds
• fatigue
• frequent bruising
• vision problems, such as retinopathy
CryoglobulinemiaThe presence of abnormal proteins in the blood.Some people may have no symptoms, but others experience:
• joint pain
• numbness and pain in the toes
• weakness
• discoloration of the skin due to burst small blood vessels

People may also experience:

  • bone fractures
  • kidney problems
  • recurrent infections
  • amyloidosis, which is when fibrous proteins in the body develop and cause organ malfunction

Multiple myeloma can lead to various complications that can cause symptoms similar to those of other diseases and disorders.

For instance, it can present with symptoms that overlap with the symptoms of diabetes, kidney damage, arthritis, and Lyme disease.

Anyone experiencing the symptoms in this article should speak with a doctor for a diagnosis.