Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis - Symptoms

The earliest sign of ALS is usually weakness in the arms or legs. This weakness tends to be more apparent on one side of the body than the other. Leg weakness may first become apparent by an increased frequency of stumbling on uneven pavement or difficulty in climbing stairs. Arm weakness may lead to difficulty in grasping or holding a cup, for instance, or loss of coordination in fingers.

Less commonly, the earliest sign of ALS is weakness in muscles of the mouth. This condition makes it difficult for the patient to chew, swallow and speak. He or she may become hoarse or tired after speaking or may have slurred speech.

Over time, ALS spreads to all voluntary muscle groups in the body. Later symptoms include loss of the ability to walk, to use the arms and hands, to speak clearly or at all, to swallow, and to hold up one's head. Weakness in the muscles of the respiratory (breathing) system can make breathing, coughing, and swallowing difficult. These conditions can result in the inhaling of foods or saliva (aspiration) which, in turn, can cause lung infections. Such infections are a common cause of death in ALS patients.

Respiratory problems can be reduced by inserting a mechanical ventilator in the person's throat. This breathing device can extend the patient's life, although muscle weakness and wasting are not reduced. Toward the end of the disease, ALS patients may be able to communicate only by means of eye blinks or a computer-assisted device.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

The Content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of Content found on the Website.