Predicting the rate of disease progression has become important as trials of new medical treatments for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are planned. Bulbar onset, early impairment of forced vital capacity, and older age have all been associated with shorter survival. We performed a retrospective study to compare survival factors with disease progression in a German ALS population. We analyzed disease progression in 155 patients at intervals of 4 months over a period of 3 years. To evaluate disease progression, the ALS functional rating scale (ALS-FRS), forced vital capacity (FVC%), and a Medical Research Council (MRC) compound score based on a nine-step modified MRC scale were used. We compared age (< 55 years vs. > or =55 years), different sites of disease onset (bulbar vs. limb), and gender to the rate of disease progression and performed survival analyses. No overall significant difference could be detected when analyzing these subgroups with regard to disease progression. By contrast, significantly longer survival was observed in the younger age group (56 months vs. 38 months, P < 0.0001) and in patients with limb-onset disease (51 months vs. 37 months, P = 0.0002). Using Cox analyses values we found that the declines of ALS-FRS, FVC%, and MRC compound score were predictive of survival (P < 0.0001, P = 0.002, and P = 0.003, respectively). Future studies are needed to clarify whether nonspecific factors including muscle atrophy, dysphagia, and coexisting diseases influence prediction of survival in ALS patients. A more precise set of predictors may help to better stratify patient subgroups for future treatment trials.
Copyright 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Muscle Nerve 25:000-000, 2002