Clinical characteristics and management of ALS

Semin Neurol. 2001 Jun;21(2):155-66. doi: 10.1055/s-2001-15268.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the most common form of degenerative motor neuron disease in adulthood. The clinical picture was accurately described by Charcot over 125 years ago and consists of generalized fasciculations, progressive atrophy and weakness of the skeletal muscles, spasticity and pyramidal tract signs, dysarthria, dysphagia, and dyspnea. Pseudobulbar affect is common. Disease-specific treatment options are still unsatisfactory. However, therapeutic nihilism is not justified as a large array of palliative measures is available to enhance the quality of life of patients and their families. Palliative care in ALS is a multidisciplinary effort requiring careful coordination. An open and frank disclosure of the diagnosis is of paramount importance. Nutritional deficiency due to pronounced dysphagia can be relieved by a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy. Respiratory insufficiency can be effectively treated by noninvasive home mechanical ventilation. The terminal phase of the disease should be discussed, at the latest, when symptoms of dyspnea appear in order to prevent unwarranted fears of "choking to death." Collaboration with hospice and completion of advance directives can be of invaluable help in the terminal phase.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / therapy*
  • Hospice Care
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care
  • Quality of Life