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What are the Different Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Symptoms?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2019
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The symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, usually start subtly with signs of muscle weakness. As they progress over time, a patient will develop increasing difficulty with motor tasks. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms typically start in the extremities with muscle weakness and twitching, and gradually lead to difficulty breathing, swallowing, and speaking. People who start to show signs of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms should be evaluated by a neurologist for this condition or a related neurological disorder.

This disease is known as a motor neuron disease, as it involves a gradual degeneration of the patient's motor neurons. It is irreversible and cannot be cured, although medications are available to help people manage the condition. Physical and occupational therapy can also be beneficial, helping patients retain physical skills. Patients will also eventually need assistive devices like wheelchairs and communication boards, as the disease is progressive in nature and grows worse with time.

The hallmark symptom of this disease is muscle weakness and twitching. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms can start with clumsiness, like tripping, having trouble handling objects, and difficulty engaging in complex physical tasks. Other amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms include difficulty breathing, trouble swallowing, and slurred or thickened speech. These symptoms appear in later stages of the disease.

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Patients with this disease can present in a number of different ways. Some patients may retain clear speech until the disease is well progressed, for example. The universal symptom seen in all patients is the muscle weakness, making it harder for the patient to function. A number of other diseases can also have an impact on muscle strength and the patient may need extensive testing to narrow down the cause of the weakness and develop the most appropriate treatment plan.

The causes of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis are not well understood, and it's not clear that people can do anything to prevent the disease. Early diagnosis can provide patients with more treatment options, including more access to adaptive tools the patient may find helpful later when the disease has significantly impaired physical function. Often, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis symptoms are noticed by family members long before the patient sees them, as the disease can onset gradually and people may subtly adapt their routines as they experience problems like clumsiness. Family members and friends who notice a person behaving oddly may want to recommend seeing a doctor to check for health problems.

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