Palliative care in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis

Neurol Clin. 2001 Nov;19(4):829-47. doi: 10.1016/s0733-8619(05)70049-9.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is the most common degenerative motor neuron disease in adults. The clinical picture 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. Therapeutic nihilism is not justified as a large array of palliative measures available to enhance the quality of life of patients and their families. Because of its clinical characteristics, ALS represents a paradigm for palliative care in neurological diseases. Numerous projects are being undertaken worldwide in an effort to enlarge the evidence base for palliative interventions in ALS. Palliative care in ALS is a multidisciplinary effort requiring careful coordination. An open and empathic disclosure of the diagnosis is essential. Nutritional deficiency caused by dysphagia can be relieved by a percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy. Respiratory insufficiency can be effectively treated by non-invasive 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." Psychological and spiritual care of patients and families are important. Collaboration with hospice institutions and completion of advance directives can be of invaluable help in the terminal phase.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / complications
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / therapy*
  • Deglutition Disorders / etiology
  • Dysarthria / etiology
  • Dyspnea / etiology
  • Humans
  • Hypoventilation / etiology
  • Muscle Weakness / etiology
  • Pain / etiology
  • Palliative Care*
  • Quality of Life
  • Sialorrhea / etiology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / etiology