Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS): three letters that change the people's life. For ever

Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2009 Sep;67(3A):750-82. doi: 10.1590/s0004-282x2009000400040.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease affecting the motor nervous system. It causes progressive and cumulative physical disabilities in patients, and leads to eventual death due to respiratory muscle failure. The disease is diverse in its presentation, course, and progression. We do not yet fully understand the cause or causes of the disease, nor the mechanisms for its progression; thus, we lack effective means for treating this disease. Currently, we rely on a multidisciplinary approach to symptomatically manage and care for patients who have ALS. Although amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and its variants are readily recognized by neurologists, about 10% of patients are misdiagnosed, and delays in diagnosis are common. Prompt diagnosis, sensitive communication of the diagnosis, the involvement of the patient and their family, and a positive care plan are prerequisites for good clinical management. A multidisciplinary, palliative approach can prolong survival and maintain quality of life. Treatment with Riluzole improves survival but has a marginal effect on the rate of functional deterioration, whereas non-invasive ventilation prolongs survival and improves or maintains quality of life. In this review, we discuss the diagnosis, management, and how to cope with impaired function and end of life on the basis of our experience, the opinions of experts, existing guidelines, and clinical trials. Multiple problems require a multidisciplinary approach including aggressive symptomatic management, rehabilitation to maintain motor function, nutritional support (enteric feeding, gastrostomy), respiratory support (non invasive home ventilation, invasive ventilation, tracheotomy), augmentative communication devices, palliative care, psychological support for both patients and families (because family members so often play a central role in management and care), communication between the care team, the patient and his or her family, and recognition of the clinical and social effects of cognitive impairment. Social, bioethical, and financial issues as well as advance directives should be addressed. A plethora of evidence-based guidelines should be compiled into an internationally agreed guideline of best practice. The multidisciplinary team has changed the history of disease, with still no curative therapy available.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / diagnosis
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / etiology
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / psychology
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis* / therapy
  • Animals
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Prognosis
  • Quality of Life