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Signs and Symptoms of ALS | Lou Gehrig’s Disease

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, otherwise known as ALS and commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease or Motor Neurone Disease (MND), is a serious neuromuscular illness affecting approximately 30,000 people in the United States. There are about 5,000 new cases diagnosed each year.  We have put together the following list of signs and symptoms of ALS below.

Also, we have information on diagnosis, helpful books and valuable resources for patients.

The Most Common Signs and Symptoms of ALS include:

The early onset of ALS is often very subtle – these are the initial signs and symptoms of ALS. to watch for:

  • twitching and cramping of the muscles, especially those in the hands and feet
  • muscle weakness in the arms or legs
  • loss of motor control in the arms or legs
  • general weakness and fatigue
  • tripping and falling
  • dropping things
  • slurred or thick speech
  • difficulty chewing or swallowing
  • uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying

The parts of the body affected by early symptoms of ALS. depend on which muscles in the body are damaged first. For instance, one person may experience trouble grasping or lifting, another person notices that he is stumbling or tripping more often, and a third person may notice episodes of slurred speech.

Muscle weakness is a hallmark initial sign in ALS, occurring in approximately 60% of patients. About 25% have bulbar (throat) onset, which means that voice and swallowing are first affected. About 50% have arm onset, and 25% leg onset.

Regardless of the part of the body where ALS first makes an appearance, muscle weakness and atrophy eventually spread as the disease progresses. Later symptoms may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty breathing
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty chewing
  • tight and stiff muscles
  • complete paralysis

Although the rate at which the disease progresses varies from person to person, if the disease remains unchecked all ALS patients will eventually succumb to complete paralysis, including needing a ventilator to breathe and a feeding tube for nourishment.

ALS Diagnosis

ALS is one of those diseases that is very difficult to diagnose. There is no one test that will definitively tell you whether or not you have ALS. Most likely, you will need to have a thorough clinical examination and a series of diagnostic tests before a diagnosis of ALS can be established. Basically, other diseases that mimic ALS are ruled out first before a diagnosis of ALS is given.

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Guillain Barre Syndrome
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Post-Polio Syndrome
  • Stroke
  • Myasthenia Gravis
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Spinal Stenosis
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Tumor at the base of the spine
  • Spinal cord tumor
  • Spinal Cord Cyst
  • Inflammatory disease of muscle

The following tests are commoly conducted:

  • an electromyography (EMG) – a special recording device that detects electrical activity in muscles
  • a nerve conduction velocity (NCV) – abnormalities may suggest damage to the peripheral nerves or a muscle disease other than ALS
  • a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – takes a detailed image of the brain and spinal cord
  • a chelation challenge test – measures the output of heavy metals through a 24 hour urine test
  • thyroid and parathyroid tests

Several A.L.S organizations recommend that you get a second opinion from an ALS “expert” if you have been given the diagnosis of .LS. The reason is that there are several diseases that have similar symptoms as A.L.S and most of these conditions are treatable. An ALS expert is someone who diagnoses and treats many ALS patients.

Suggested Books for ALS Patients:

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis: A Guide for Patients and Families
M.D. Hiroshi Mitsumoto
ERIC IS WINNING !!: Beating a Terminal Illness with Nutrition, Avoiding Toxins and Common Sense
Eric Edney

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (American Academy of Neurology)
Robert G. Miller
Pocket Reference for ALS Providers (3rd Edition)
Bryan E. Bledsoe

ALS Resources

General Patient Resources

  • ALS Association

The ALS Association encourages scientific research to find a cure for ALS, heightens awareness of the nature of the disease, stimulates volunteerism and activism, and more.

  • ALS Angels

ALS Angels is a group of dedicated individuals whose mission is to help fund research and to find a cure for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

  • Project ALS

The mission of Project A.L.S.™ is to recruit the world’s best research scientists and clinicians to work together toward an understanding of and the first effective treatments for ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

  • ALS Forums

ALS forum is an all-volunteer driven resource provided free of charge to help anyone directly or indirectly affected by ALS and MND (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).

  • Med Help

ALS Help Forum. This forum is for help, questions and support regarding ALS

  • 8 minute trailer for an ALS Documentary

Medical Resources

  • Medline Plus

A service of the US National Library of Medicine.

  • Pub Med Health

Reviews causes, risk factors, symptoms, treatment, prognosis and complications.