Thousands of people in Massachusetts and around the country are diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis each year, but many of these diagnoses are made months after the onset of symptoms. About 40% of the people who develop ALS each year are initially diagnosed as suffering from another condition. This worries experts because ALS is a neurodegenerative disease, and early treatment is crucial.
Multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease
Doctors cannot run a specific test to find out if a patient is suffering from ALS, so they base their diagnoses on standard tests and observation. ALS is often misdiagnosed because it is fairly rare and presents similar symptoms to more common neurodegenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. All of these diseases weaken the muscles over time, and it takes a skilled neurosurgeon to tell them apart. Failure to diagnose ALS or any other serious disease is considered medical malpractice when doctors provide treatment that falls short of generally accepted professional standards.
Lyme disease is another condition that is often confused with ALS. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that causes muscle twitches, cramps and weakness in the hands, feet and legs. These are also ALS symptoms. Other conditions that present symptoms similar to ALS include spinobulbar muscular atrophy, cervical myelopathy, myasthenia gravis, hereditary spastic paraplegia and multifocal motor neuropathy.
Patients who receive an ALS diagnosis in the disease’s early stages receive treatment that improves their comfort and lengthens their lives, but about 40% of ALS cases are misdiagnosed. ALS presents symptoms similar to many other neurodegenerative diseases, and there is no specific test that doctors can order to identify the condition. ALS can also be mistaken for Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection caused by tick bites.