How does a person get ALS?
ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) belongs to a group of disorders known as motor neuron diseases (MND). The disease causes gradual damage to the nerve cells (motor neurons).
Motor neurons extend from the brain to the spinal cord and to muscles throughout the body. They are responsible for carrying messages between the brain, spinal cord and the voluntary muscles that help you do various tasks such as grasping objects, talking, eating, dressing up and moving around. In ALS, the death of these neurons stops the transfer of messages from the brain and spinal cord to the muscles.
The disease has a progressive and fatal course. In absence of the control from the nerves, the muscles stay unused and gradually weaken, twitch (fasciculations) and waste away (atrophy). It ultimately causes the brain to lose its ability to initiate and control voluntary movements. There is a progressive decline in the ability to talk, write, pick up or hold things, swallow and breathe.
There is no cure for ALS. People with this disease have a shortened life expectancy and may die within a few years of diagnosis. ALS most commonly affects white people, males and people over age 60.
What is usually the first sign of ALS?
The earliest signs of ALS usually include muscle weakness or stiffness (spasticity). ALS typically affects all muscles under voluntary control, and the person ultimately loses their strength and ability to eat, speak, grasp things, move and even breathe. They find it difficult to perform routine tasks such as feeding themselves or getting dressed.
Many people with ALS notice the first signs of the disease in the hand or arm as they find it difficult to perform simple tasks such as turning a key in a lock, buttoning a shirt, combing their hair or writing.
Some report initial symptoms in one of the legs causing difficulty or awkwardness when walking or running. They may also report that they are tripping or stumbling more often than before. If the initial symptoms affect the arms or the legs, it is called a ‘limb onset’ ALS.
Few people notice their first symptoms as difficulty in speech or swallowing, but these may rarely be the first signs of ALS. This is termed as ‘bulbar onset’ ALS.
Some of the early symptoms of ALS are:
- Muscle twitches or fasciculations in the arm, leg, shoulder or tongue
- Muscle tightness or stiffness (spasticity)
- Muscle cramps
- Weakness of muscles affecting an arm, a leg, neck or diaphragm (the muscular partition separating the chest from the abdomen).
- Slurred speech
- Nasal voice
- Difficulty in chewing or swallowing.
Whatever may be the initial symptom, most people with ALS eventually die from respiratory failure, usually within two to five years from when the symptoms first appear. About 10% of people with ALS, however, survive for 10 years or more after diagnosis.
How is ALS diagnosed?
The diagnosis of ALS is based on a detailed history of the symptoms and signs observed by a doctor during physical examination, along with various tests to rule out other mimicking diseases.
Your doctor may request certain tests which include:
- Shingles Ups Odds of Stroke, Heart Attack By Almost 30%
- 'How Can I Prevent Heart Disease?' Docs Give Different Answers to Men, Women
- 'COVID-somnia' May Be Easing as Americans Report Better Sleep
- Bacteria Risk Spurs Recall of 8 Million Laundress Products
- U.S. to End Mpox Public Health Emergency in January
- More Health News »
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Top What Is Usually the First Sign of ALS Related Articles
MS (Multiple Sclerosis) vs. ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) Differences and SimilaritiesALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease) and MS (multiple sclerosis) are both diseases of the nervous system (neurodegenerative). ALS is a disease in which the nerve cells in the body are attacked by the immune system, although it's not considered an autoimmune disease by some scientists. MS is an autoimmune disease in which the insulated covering of the nerves (myelin sheath) in the CNS (central nervous system) degenerate, or deteriorate.
Scientists don't know the exact cause of either problem. However, they have discovered that mutations in the gene that produces the SOD1 enzyme were associated with some cases of familial ALS. Scientists also theorize that multiple sclerosis may be caused by infection or vitamin D deficiency. ALS occurs between 50-70 years of age (the average age of occurrence ALS is 55), and mostly affects men. While MS occurs between 20-60 years of age, and mostly affects women. About 30,000 people in the US have ALS, and an average of 5,000 new diagnoses per year (that's about 15 new cases per week). Worldwide, MS affects more than 2.3 million people, with about 10,000 new cases diagnosed each year (that's about 200 new diagnoses per week).
Some of the signs and symptoms of both diseases include muscle weakness, muscle spasms, problems walking, fatigue, slurred speech, and problems swallowing. ALS signs and symptoms that are different from MS include problems holding the head upright, clumsiness, muscle cramps and twitches, problems holding objects, and uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying. MS signs and symptoms that are different from ALS include vision problems, vertigo and balance problems, sexual problems, memory problems, depression, mood swings, and digestive problems.
There is no cure for either disease, however the prognosis and life expectancy are different. Multiple sclerosis is not a fatal condition, while ALS progresses rapidly and leads to death.
Alzheimer's DiseaseAlzheimer's disease is a common cause of dementia. Symptoms and warning signs of Alzheimer's disease include memory loss, difficulty performing familiar tasks, disorientation to time and place, misplacing things, and more. The biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease is increased age. Treatment for Alzheimer's is often targeted toward decreasing the symptoms and progression of the disease.
ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) Symptoms, Causes, Life ExpectancyAmyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease) is a neurological disease that progresses rapidly. The disease attacks the nerve cells responsible for the control of voluntary muscles. Early symptoms include cramping, twitching, or stiffness of the muscles; slurred nasal speech; difficulty swallowing or chewing, and muscle weakness in an arm or leg. Currently, the cause of ALS is not known. ALS is a fatal disease. No cure has been found for ALS, however, the drug riluzole (Rilutek) is FDA approved, and this drug reduces the damage to motor neurons by decreasing the release of glutamate.
Arthritis: Causes and Treatment for Joint Stiffness and PainArthritis and injuries can leave your joints swollen, tender, and damaged. Discover treatments for morning stiffness, sore joints, hip pain, and other conditions. Learn when it’s time to call a health care professional, as well as joint-friendly exercises that can bring pain relief and ease of movement for arthritis sufferers and others.
DepressionDepression is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts and affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. The principal types of depression are major depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disease (also called manic-depressive disease).
Depression QuizMany people do not recognize the symptoms and warning signs of depression and depressive disorders in children and adults. With proper diagnosis, treatments and medications are available. Take this quiz to learn more about recovery from depression.
What Is the Difference Between Dementia and Alzheimer's?Dementia is a group of symptoms (syndrome) characterized by a decline in memory, thinking and reasoning. Although dementia is a cluster of symptoms, Alzheimer’s is a slowly progressive disorder of the brain that destroys memory and thinking skills.
Fitness and Exercise: How to Start a Walking ProgramWalking has lots of health benefits, but for most folks, it's hard to figure out how to make it part of their routine. Learn how to design a walking program and find out the best ways to stick with it.
Healthy Aging: Causes of Muscle WeaknessFrom aging to illness, many things can cause your muscles to get weaker. Learn about the causes and what you can do to make it better.
Muscle CrampsMuscle cramps are involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscles that do not relax. Extremely common, any muscles that have voluntary control, including some organs, are subject to cramp. Since there is such variety in the types of muscle cramps that can occur, many causes and preventative medications are known. Stretching is the most common way to stop or prevent most muscle cramps.
Muscle Cramps (Charley Horse) and Muscle SpasmsWhat are the differences between muscle spasms and cramps? Learn about the causes of muscle spasms and cramps (charley horse) in the calf, leg, and more.
Muscle Cramps: TreatmentMuscle cramps cannot be stopped instantly with injections or pills, but some methods can be useful to relieve them which include stretching, massage, application of heat and cold, walking and taking B vitamins.
Swallowing Problems (Dysphagia)Dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing, swallowing problems. Dysphagia is due to problems in nerve or muscle control. It is common, for example, after a stroke. Dysphagia compromises nutrition and hydration and may lead to aspiration pneumonia and dehydration.
What Are the Seven Stages of Alzheimer's?While not everyone will experience the same symptoms, and the disease may progress at a different rate for each individual, the typical progression of Alzheimer’s disease can be broken down into seven stages.