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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Symptoms & Diagnosis


Symptoms include:

  • Progressive weakness in arms and legs (at first often on only one side) over weeks to months without changes in sensory abilities.
  • Initial presentation may be a wrist or foot drop
  • Trouble holding things without dropping them
  • Frequent tripping while walking
  • Shrunken muscles
  • Twitchy muscles
  • Unpredictable changing emotions
  • Clumsiness
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Slurred speech
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble chewing and swallowing, resulting in frequent choking and gagging
  • Weight loss due to trouble eating
  • Trouble breathing
  • Excess salivation, drooling
  • Cognition is intact
  • Sensation is intact
  • Trouble coughing, resulting in development of pneumonia


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. There are no tests that definitively diagnose ALS, but tests may be used to rule out other medical conditions.

Tests may include:

  • Electromyogram (EMG) —to look for progressive muscle weakness and twitching
  • CT Scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of the structures inside the head
  • MRI Scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of the structures inside the head
  • Blood tests—to rule out metabolic, heavy metal exposure, or rarely infections such as lyme disease or HIV
  • Lumbar puncture —a procedure to collect cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)
  • Urine tests

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Copyright © 2022 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.

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