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What are the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)?

Early symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) involve weaknesses of peripheral motor control. People with ALS will begin to have difficulty moving their hands and feet. They may have trouble speaking and eating. They can experience muscle cramps and twitching throughout their body. As ALS progresses, difficulties with moving and speaking become more severe. ALS causes problems with breathing, and often kills through respiratory failure. It is also associated with neurological conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer's.

The initial symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, can occur in any segment of the body (arms, trunk, legs or head and neck muscles). Limb weakness that is much more prominent on one side versus the other is the most common symptom, occurring in 80 percent of people.

When symptoms begin in the upper extremities, the most common symptom is painless hand weakness and atrophy. The most common lower extremity symptom is a so-called foot drop in which the individual cannot flex the foot. Finally, 20 percent of people will have initial symptoms of slurring of words or difficulty swallowing. Later symptoms can include cramping, muscle stiffness, poor balance and poor dexterity, to name a few.

When the symptoms for ALS first begins, the symptoms are hard to notice. Some experience muscle stiffness or weakness, others slur their speech or become clumsier or usual.

Which symptoms show up first depends on which muscles are affected. When the disease affects upper motor neurons, people will experience slurred speech, difficulty in swallowing and general clumsiness. When it affects the lower motor neurons, muscles in a particular part of the body-such as the hand or foot-will be affected. Eventually of all of the muscles in the body will be affected, resulting in total paralysis.

Continue Learning about Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.