Symptoms of ALS

ALS is a very difficult disease to diagnose. To date, there is no one test or procedure to ultimately establish the diagnosis of ALS. It is through a clinical examination and series of diagnostic tests, often ruling out other diseases that mimic ALS, that a diagnosis can be established. A comprehensive diagnostic workup includes most, if not all, of the following procedures:

  • electrodiagnostic tests including electomyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV)

  • blood and urine studies including high resolution serum protein electrophoresis, thyroid and parathyroid hormone levels and 24 hour urine collection for heavy metals

  • spinal tap

  • x-rays, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

  • myelogram of cervical spine

  • muscle and/or nerve biopsy

  • thorough neurological examination

At the onset of ALS the symptoms may be so slight that they are frequently overlooked. With regard to the appearance of symptoms and the progression of the illness, the course of the disease may include the following:

  • muscle weakness in one or more of the following: hands, arms, legs or the muscles of speech, swallowing or breathing

  • twitching (fasciculation) and cramping of muscles, especially those in the hands and feet

  • impairment of the use of the arms and legs

  • "thick speech" and difficulty in projecting the voice

  • in more advanced stages, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and swallowing

The initial symptoms of ALS can be quite varied in different people. One person may experience tripping over carpet edges, another person may have trouble lifting and a third person's early symptom may be slurred speech. The rate at which ALS progresses can be quite variable from one person to another. Although the mean survival time with ALS is three to five years, many people live five, ten or more years. In a small number of people, ALS is known to remit or halt its progression, though there is no scientific understanding as to how and why this happens. Symptoms can begin in the muscles of speech, swallowing or in the hands, arms, legs or feet. Not all people with ALS experience the same symptoms or the same sequences or patterns of progression. But, progressive muscle weakness and paralysis are universally experienced. 

Muscle weakness is a hallmark initial sign in ALS, occurring in approximately 60% of patients. Early symptoms vary with each individual, but usually include tripping, dropping things, abnormal fatigue of the arms and/or legs, slurred speech, muscle cramps and twitches and/or uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying. 

The hands and feet may be affected first, causing difficulty in lifting, walking or using the hands for the activities of daily living such as dressing, washing and buttoning clothes. 

As the weakening and paralysis continue to spread to the muscles of the trunk of the body the disease, eventually affects speech, swallowing, chewing and breathing. When the breathing muscles become affected, ultimately, the patient will need permanent ventilatory support in order to survive. 

Since ALS attacks only motor neurons, the sense of sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell are not affected. For many people, muscles of the eyes and bladder are generally not affected. 

Diagnosing ALS

 

These tests are done at the discretion of the physician, usually based on the results of other diagnostic tests and the physical examination. There are several diseases that have some of the same symptoms as ALS, and most of these conditions are treatable. It is for this reason that The ALS Association recommends that a person diagnosed with ALS seek a second opinion from an ALS expert - someone who diagnoses and treats many ALS patients and has training in this medical specialty. The Mid-America Chapter partners with five medical centers to provide ALS specific clinics. Contact us for more information.

Kansas City area office
6950 Squibb Rd., Ste 210
Mission, KS 66202

(913) 648-2062

Central Kansas office
3450 N. Rock Rd., Ste 211
Wichita, KS 67226

(316) 612-0188

Nebraska office
900 S. 74 PLZ., Ste 106
Omaha, NE 68114

(402) 991-8788

Southern Missouri office
2209 Petrus Cir.
Ozark, MO 65721

(417) 886-5003

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon
  • YouTube Social  Icon
  • Instagram Social Icon