Motor neuron, peripheral nerve, and neuromuscular junction disorders

Handb Clin Neurol. 2022:189:259-270. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-323-91532-8.00014-8.


In amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), and neuromuscular junction disorders, three mechanisms may lead, singly or together, to respiratory emergencies and increase the disease burden and mortality: (i) reduced strength of diaphragm and accessory muscles; (ii) oropharyngeal dysfunction with possible aspiration of saliva/bronchial secretions/drink/food; and (iii) inefficient cough due to weakness of abdominal muscles. Breathing deficits may occur at onset or more often along the chronic course of the disease. Symptoms and signs are dyspnea on minor exertion, orthopnea, nocturnal awakenings, excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, morning headache, poor concentration, and difficulty in clearing bronchial secretions. The "20/30/40 rule" has been proposed to early identify GBS patients at risk for respiratory failure. The mechanical in-exsufflator is a device that assists ALS patients in clearing bronchial secretions. Noninvasive ventilation is a safe and helpful support, especially in ALS, but has some contraindications. Myasthenic crisis is a clinical challenge and is associated with substantial morbidity including prolonged mechanical ventilation and 5%-12% mortality. Emergency room physicians and consultant pulmonologists and neurologists must know such respiratory risks, be able to recognize early signs, and treat properly.

Keywords: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Congenital myasthenic syndromes; Guillain–Barré syndrome; Hypercapnia; Hypoxemia; Invasive mechanical ventilation; Myasthenia gravis; Noninvasive ventilation; Respiratory failure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis*
  • Guillain-Barre Syndrome*
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons
  • Myasthenia Gravis*
  • Neuromuscular Diseases*
  • Neuromuscular Junction Diseases*
  • Peripheral Nerves
  • Respiratory Insufficiency*