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How Is ALS Diagnosed?

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Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a real mouthful; most people know it by its more common names: ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting more than 30,000 people in the U.S. with as many as 5,000 new cases diagnosed every year, according to the ALS Association. Every 90 minutes someone in the US is either newly diagnosed with ALS or passes away from the disease.

Currently, there is no cure for ALS and those affected have an average survival rate of three to five years from the time of symptoms onset. About 90% of cases occur sporadically, meaning that there is no known cause or family history. About 10% of cases are associated with a known genetic mutation. Most people who develop ALS are between the ages of 40 – 70 years old, but the disease can occur in persons in their 20s as well. That’s why knowing the potential warning signs of ALS is your best chance for an early diagnosis. This allows for early evaluation and treatment, which can slow the disease’s progress, reduce discomfort, and improve quality of life.

Early ALS signs include:

  • Muscle weakness
    • Due to the nature of the disease, those with ALS experience a loss of muscle strength making it difficult to hold items such as pens or cups.
  • Impaired speech and trouble projecting the voice
    • Muscle atrophy may make it difficult for people with ALS to make clear sounds, breath in sufficient air to speak loudly, control the quality of the sound of their voice or maintain a natural rhythm of speech.
  • Abnormal fatigue
    • The degenerative nature of ALS causes patients to experience lack of energy, general tiredness and even extreme exhaustion.
  • Difficulty walking
    • Stumbling and tripping is often an early symptom of ALS.
  • Difficulty swallowing
    • ALS patients may find it hard to chew, remove food from the utensil and/or have food stick to the roof of the mouth. They may also experience choking on food and liquids and have difficulty coordinating breathing and swallowing.
  • Uncontrollable periods of laughing or crying
    • Pseudo bulbar affect (PBA) is not an uncommon condition for people with ALS to have. PBA is recognized by involuntary, sudden, and frequent episodes of laughing and/or crying far in excess of the situation which may have provoked it.
  • Twitching and cramping of muscles, especially those in the hands and feet
    • Twitching occurs when a nerve involuntarily fires on a muscle and the result is a visible twitch. While not necessarily painful, continuous twitching can be irritating.

Early signs of ALS will vary from person-to-person. Some may experience impaired speech or swallowing while others may find it difficult to walk or develop hand weakness and lose dexterity. When experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor.

Ochsner has the only ALS Clinic in Louisiana and Mississippi to be designated a Certified Treatment Center of Excellence by the ALS Association.

For more information about ALS or to make an appointment, visit or call 504-842-0113.