Which physical findings are characteristic of multiple myeloma (MM)?

Updated: May 11, 2021
  • Author: Dhaval Shah, MD; Chief Editor: Emmanuel C Besa, MD  more...
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On head, ears, eyes, nose, and throat (HEENT) examination, the eyes may show exudative macular detachment, retinal hemorrhage, or cotton-wool spots. Pallor from anemia may be present. Ecchymoses or purpura from thrombocytopenia may be evident.

Bony tenderness is not uncommon in MM, resulting from focal lytic destructive bone lesions or pathologic fracture. Pain without tenderness is typical. Pathologic fractures may be observed. In general, painful lesions that involve at least 50% of the cortical diameter of a long bone or lesions that involve the femoral neck or calcar femorale are at high (50%) risk for a pathologic fracture. The risk of fracture is lower in upper-extremity lesions than in lower-extremity lesions. Even a small cortical defect can decrease torsional strength by as much as 60% (stress riser effect).

Neurologic findings may include a sensory level change (ie, loss of sensation below a dermatome corresponding to a spinal cord compression), neuropathy, myopathy, a Tinel sign, or a Phalen sign due to carpel tunnel compression secondary to amyloid deposition.

Extramedullary plasmacytomas, which consist of soft-tissue masses of plasma cells, are not uncommon. Plasmacytomas have been described in almost every site in the body. Although the aerodigestive tract is the most common location, reports also describe orbital, ear canal, cutaneous, gastric, rectal, prostatic, and retroperitoneal lesions.

On evaluation of the abdomen, hepatosplenomegaly may be discovered. Cardiovascular system examination may reveal cardiomegaly secondary to immunoglobulin deposition.

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