Natural history and clinical features of the flail arm and flail leg ALS variants

Neurology. 2009 Mar 24;72(12):1087-94. doi: 10.1212/01.wnl.0000345041.83406.a2.


Objective: We sought to define the significance of brachial amyotrophic diplegia (flail arm syndrome [FA]) and the pseudopolyneuritic variant (flail leg syndrome [FL]) of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS; motor neuron disease).

Methods: We analyzed survival in clinic cohorts in London, UK (1,188 cases), and Melbourne, Australia (432 cases). Survival from disease onset was analyzed using the Kaplan- Meier method and Cox proportional hazards model.

Results: In the London cohort, the FA syndrome represented 11% and the FL syndrome 6% of the sample. Median survival was 35 months for limb onset and 27 months for bulbar onset ALS, whereas this was 61 months for FA syndrome (p < 0.001) and 69 months for FL syndrome (p < 0.001). Five-year survival in this cohort was 8.8% for bulbar onset, 20% for limb onset, 52% for FA syndrome, and 64% for FL syndrome. The ratio of men to women was 4:1 in the FA group compared to 2:1 in other limb onset cases. Excluding lower motor neuron FA and FL cases, progressive muscular atrophy comprised 4% of the sample and had a prognosis similar to typical limb onset ALS. In the Melbourne cohort, median survival for limb onset ALS was 31 months, bulbar onset 27 months, FA syndrome 66 months (p < 0.001), and FL syndrome 71 months (p = 0.001).

Conclusions: The flail arm (FA) and flail leg (FL) syndromes had significantly better survival than typical amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or progressive muscular atrophy cases that were not classified as FA or FL. Our findings underline the clinical and prognostic importance of the FA and FL variants of ALS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / diagnosis
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / epidemiology*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Arm / physiopathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Leg / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / diagnosis
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / epidemiology
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / physiopathology
  • Prognosis
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Sex Distribution
  • Survival Rate
  • Young Adult