Correlates of suffering in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Neurology. 1999 Apr 22;52(7):1434-40. doi: 10.1212/wnl.52.7.1434.


Objectives: 1) To determine the prevalence of pain, suffering, poor quality of life, depression, and hopelessness in people with ALS, and the correlates of suffering and poor quality of life; 2) to analyze the relationship between pain, suffering, quality of life, and attitudes toward life-sustaining medical treatment and physician-assisted suicide; and 3) to determine concordance between patients with ALS and their caregivers in rating the patients' pain, quality of life, and suffering.

Methods: Subjects completed a single interview. We measured the subject's pain, quality of life, suffering, hopelessness, depression, social support, perception of burden to others, level of disability, desire for life-sustaining medical treatment, and interest in assisted suicide. Caregivers also rated the patient's quality of life, pain, and suffering.

Results: A total of 100 subjects with ALS and 91 caregivers participated. Suffering was rated as 4 or greater on a six-point scale by 20% of subjects with ALS, and 19% rated their pain as 4 or greater on a six-point scale. Eleven percent had clinical depression. Physicians frequently failed to recognize and treat pain and depression. The correlates of suffering were increasing pain, hopelessness, and level of disability. The correlates of poor quality of life were poor social support and increasing hopelessness. The correlation between subjects' and caregivers' rating of the patient's suffering was r = 0.47. There was no relationship between subjects' ratings of pain, suffering, and quality of life, and their interest in life-sustaining treatment or physician-assisted suicide.

Conclusion: Many patients with ALS suffer, and their suffering is correlated to pain and hopelessness. Physicians caring for patients with ALS frequently fail to recognize and treat their patients' pain and depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / physiopathology
  • Quality of Life*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires