How MS Relates to ALS

Both Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or ALS, are neurological diseases. They are both lifelong diseases that most people associate with physical disability as well as muscle weakness. Even though the names of the diseases and some of the symptoms are similar, there are quite a lot of differences between the two.

Some of the Symptoms of These Diseases

There are many neurological symptoms that both of these diseases share in common. Since each presents with neurological symptoms, some people often ask the question is MS related to ALS. In truth, there are quite a few differences in the symptoms and causes presented with each disease.

Some of the first symptoms a patient with ALS will experience are muscle weakness, trouble speaking, or difficulty swallowing. Some of the first symptoms of MS include things such as numbness or tingling in the extremities and vision changes.

Both diseases can start with what seems like very mild problems such as twitching of the hand. That is not to say they could not also begin with a significant event like leg weakness that creates a sudden fall.

ALS has a steady hallmark decline and worsening symptoms for patients. In contrast to that, MS has a more gradual decline. MS patients can experience periods of remission where they see improvement in their symptoms. Even then, there can be relapses in the symptoms they experience.

ALS will always advance to a place where there is paralysis of the muscles. Because of this, there will be muscle atrophy, where muscles begin to deteriorate and shrink. Eventually, everyone who has ALS will need an assistive device such as a scooter, a wheelchair, or a walker.

People with MS, on the other hand, may experience some muscle weakness, but that rarely leads to any paralysis. Because of this, most people with MS have more independence than those dealing with ALS.

Both diseases can cause difficulty in speaking. That does not mean people with these diseases do not understand language because this, after all, is not a language disorder. It only means that your speech may be hard for others to understand.

MS can create cognitive problems such as slow or clouded thinking. These cognitive problems can occur occasionally, but they may progress throughout the disease. While the same type of thing can happen with ALS, it is not as common as it is with patients with MS.

One of the most significant issues with ALS are the problems it can cause with a patient’s breathing. Because of the degeneration of nerves powering respiratory muscles, most patients with ALS will at some point need a device to help with breathing. If a patient with MS has breathing problems, they are usually relatively mild and rarely require breathing assistance.

Patients with MS can have several vision problems. These can include blurred vision, double vision, or decreased vision. Nothing about ALS will cause vision problems, but there can be altered eye movement in the later stages of the disease.

The Causes of Each Disease

These two diseases share in common that they both affect the spine and brain. One of the primary differences is that in MS, lesions are often seen on both the spine in the brain during an MRI. In contrast, the damage caused by ALS does not appear on imaging.

MS attacks myelin, the fatty coating that insulates nerves and allows them to function correctly. As this coding degrades, the nerves do not perform as well, and you begin to see the classic symptoms caused by the disease.

Since this fatty coating gets regularly replaced by the body, patients can recover from relapses without any lasting effects. If there is nerve scarring or damage, some effects can be longer-lasting or permanent.

In contrast to MS, ALS attacks both the motor neurons and the tracts of these neurons located in the brain and spinal cord. While researchers do know that ALS is not an autoimmune disease, there is not an apparent reason as to why the disease occurs.

While it is easy to see the similarities between the effects of these two diseases, the root causes and the treatments are quite different. As opposed to ALS, which is a disease that is sure to get worse over time, MS has the possibility of remission and gives patients an ability to live much more easily with the disease.

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