Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) often is mistaken for multiple sclerosis (MS). In fact, they share similar symptoms and features, such as scarring around the nerves (sclerosis), causing muscle spasms, difficulty in walking, and fatigue.

ALS characteristics

ALS is a rapidly progressing and fatal disease that affects motor neurons, the symptoms of which become worse over time. The disease is characterized by a loss of the actual motor neurons in the spinal cord, causing symptoms such as weakness and deterioration in the arms, legs, mouth, and throat.

As the nerve cells are lost, they no longer can send impulses to the muscles. This results in secondary atrophy (amyotrophy) of the muscles that are controlled by these cells. It is the hardening of the lateral columns of the spine that gives the name “lateral sclerosis” to the disease.

Although ALS affects both sides of the body, atrophy may start on one side, becoming symmetrical as the disease progresses.

ALS does not have an impact on the person’s intellectual reasoning, vision, hearing or senses of taste, smell, or touch. In most cases, it does not affect sexual, bowel, or bladder functions.

There is no cure for ALS and there is no effective treatment to stop or reverse progression of the disease.

MS characteristics

Unlike ALS, MS is not a fatal disease. Most people can expect to have a normal or near-normal lifespan, thanks to improvements in the treatment of symptoms and in other therapies.

MS is a disabling disease of the central nervous system, characterized by the scarring and hardening of the myelin sheath covering the nerve cell extensions in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve.

Sensations also are frequently affected in MS due to the demyelination of the nerves that transmit electrical signals.

In some extremely rare cases, ALS and MS can occur simultaneously.

ALS News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.