Bulbar amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: patterns of progression and clinical management

Head Neck. 1989 Jan-Feb;11(1):51-9. doi: 10.1002/hed.2880110110.


Patients with bulbar amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are often referred to the otolaryngologist/head and neck surgeon and speech pathologist for evaluation and management of dysphagia and dysarthria. These patients comprise an unusual group because of the progressive and multi-system nature of their illness. The neuromuscular disabilities associated with bulbar ALS cause a myriad of related symptoms associated with swallowing, speech, and respiration. Although the rate of progression cannot be predicted, a general pattern of progression is noted. Bulbar disease accounts for the majority of the worst symptoms of ALS. The loss of the ability to swallow changes eating from a pleasurable task to a burden of survival. Loss of communication effectively imprisons the patient in a state of isolation. The progressive weakness of respiration, predominantly a spinal rather than bulbar manifestation, is the cause of death for nearly all ALS patients and is also discussed. The general patterns of progression of bulbar ALS are outlined in this paper. The development of symptoms are correlated with specific treatment recommendations to aid the clinician in devising an orderly plan of management for this progressive disease.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / complications
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / physiopathology
  • Bulbar Palsy, Progressive / etiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lip Diseases / etiology
  • Medulla Oblongata / physiopathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiratory Paralysis / etiology
  • Speech Disorders / etiology
  • Tongue Diseases / etiology