The medications used to treat CML can often cause a variety of symptoms that, taken together, can make it difficult to motivate yourself to remain on treatment. In many cases, your hematologist or CML nurse can provide you with a few simple tips or prescribe medications to relieve these symptoms (see Managing symptoms: Nausea and vomiting, CML-IQ, April 02, 2014; and Managing symptoms: swelling, CML-IQ, March 20, 2014).
A common problem associated with CML treatment is muscle cramps or stiffness, which feels like the achiness after you’ve overexerted yourself. In clinical studies, about 50% of people taking Gleevec report some degree of muscle stiffness. Severe problems are fortunately uncommon (Cornelison and colleagues. J Support Oncol 2012;10:14-24). But even minor achiness can make simple tasks and moving about that much harder and will have an impact on your daily functioning.
If muscle cramps are a problem, it’s important to ensure that you’re adequately hydrated, so make sure you’re drinking enough water every day (Cornelison 2012). Tonic water containing quinine (sometimes labelled as Indian Tonic Water) can be especially helpful. But avoid quinine during pregnancy or if you have liver disease (Brasic JR. Psychol Rep 1999;84:355-367). Calcium or potassium supplements may also provide some relief – so talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the best dose to take.
Muscle cramps are generally not serious – but all symptoms and side effects should be reported to your hematologist or CML nurse. Symptoms are by definition a subjective complaint, so it’s best to try to give them a sense of the magnitude of the problem: how often you’re having muscle cramps, which muscles are affected, how severe the symptoms are, and to what extent they’re affecting your daily life. Your doctor and nurse can then help you devise a few simple strategies to ease the discomfort you’re feeling.