In recent years, both multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, have become well known.

Famous people like Stephen Hawking and Stephen Hillenburg were diagnosed with ALSand even a few years ago a campaign was viralized to make this disease visible and collect donations (ice bucket challenge).

As for MS, León Foucault, Miquel Martí i Pol and Jack Osbourne are some of the people who were diagnosed with this disease.

What are Multiple Sclerosis and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis?

Although their names have become popular, these two diseases that share a surname are often confused and some may believe that they are two different ways of referring to the same thing.

The truth is that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and multiple sclerosis are two different diseases.almost as much as two second cousins with the same last name.

They present different ways of manifesting themselves, symptoms, evolution and there are even differences between genders. Let’s take a closer look at how different they are.

Main differences between Multiple Sclerosis and ALS

Although both diseases are neurodegenerative conditions, in which the nervous system is affected and progressively becomes increasingly impaired, MS and ALS are very different.

1. Causes

For multiple sclerosis, it is not yet known exactly what causes it.The idea that behind this disease lies the action of an unknown virus or pathogen has been raised.

In multiple sclerosis, the immune system begins to attack myelin, a substance that coats nerve fibers and protects them so that they can properly transmit the nerve impulse. Other nerve cells, such as oligodendrocytes, also die.

Although amyotrophic lateral sclerosis shares with the other disease the fact that it is also not known exactly what causes it, the effects are different. In this case, the motor neurons are attacked.

Motor neurons are the neurons in charge of motor control. In this disease, these cells die progressively, producing muscular amyotrophy due to the fact that the nervous impulse cannot be transmitted to the muscles.

2. Symptoms

At the onset of both diseases, they share some symptoms, such as muscle weakness and stiffness, motor incoordination, and difficulty moving limbs. However, as they evolve, they also differentiate themselves.e.

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In the case of multiple sclerosis, the most common symptoms are visual disturbances, speech problems, and hand tremors.

The first outbreaks of multiple sclerosis usually present with tingling, ataxia and unstable gait. In addition, cognitive and emotional symptoms may occur, such as memory problems, anxiety, and depression. Thermal sensitivity is also increased.

In amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, as it is a purely motor disease, movements that are voluntarily controlled are affected.

You lose strength to move your arms and legs, and then have trouble articulating words, swallowing, and even breathing.

In the case of ALS, it is not common for patients to have cognitive problems.. A clear example of this is the case of Stephen Hawking, who until the end of his life was able to elaborate complex theories about the universe.

3. Gender

It is not well known why this asymmetry in terms of the sex of those affected, but Multiple sclerosis is more common in women while amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is more common in men..

4. Age

Multiple sclerosis may appear between the ages of 20 and 40.with an average age of 29.

On the other hand, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis can affect people who have between the ages of 40 and 70 years.

5. Incidence

Multiple sclerosis is more common than amyotrophic lateral sclerosis..

In Spain there are about 4,000 people diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, while about 47,000 people have multiple sclerosis.

In the United States, about 20,000 people are diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, while about 400,000 have multiple sclerosis.

6. Inheritance

Multiple sclerosis is not thought to be an inherited disease.However, having a family member with this diagnosis is considered a risk factor, especially if they are a parent or sibling.

In the case of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, about 10% of cases are linked to an inherited gene mutation directly from the parents.

7. Disease progression

In the case of multiple sclerosis, it is estimated that 85% of those affected have the relapsing-remitting varietyIn the case of a disease, the patient may have specific outbreaks that later remit and allow a partial or total recovery. Neurological symptoms progress over periods of 24-72 hours and then stabilize.

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About 50% of people with multiple sclerosis suffer a slow and insidious progression after about 10-15 years, called the secondary progressive form.

About 15% of MS cases have the primary progressive form, which is a slow, progressive worsening.

In the case of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, its course is always progressive.although the speed of this progression varies from patient to patient.

8. Mortality

Multiple sclerosis is not necessarily a fatal disease.. Most patients diagnosed with this disease have a normal life expectancy.

On the other hand, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis limits the life time of the person who suffers it, having a life expectancy of between three and five years after the diagnosis is made.

9. Treatments

There is no cure for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or multiple sclerosis.However, some progress has been made to improve in some way the quality of life of people diagnosed with one of these two diseases.

In the case of multiple sclerosis, there are medications that can fight the symptoms of the disease and slow its progression.

To date, only effective treatments for the relapsing-remitting variety of multiple sclerosis have been approved.

In the treatment of multiple sclerosis, three interferons are used (Avonex, Betaferon and Rebif), Copaxone, which is a set of polypeptides, Mitoxantrone, which is an immunosuppressor, and Natalizumab, a monoclonal antibody.

No effective treatments for primary progressive multiple sclerosisalthough corticosteroids such as Dexamethasone at high doses every three months have been hypothesized to have any effect.

Physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy are used to treat the symptoms of both variants of multiple sclerosis, in addition to requiring neuropsychologists to assess cognitive deficits.

For amyotrophic lateral sclerosis there is only one drug on the market that is used in the treatment: Riluzole. This drug is a glutamate blocker, preventing neurons from becoming intoxicated and dying from glutamate.

Physical Therapy Is a Good Tool for Working Symptoms that causes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Bibliographic references

  • Kinsley, L., and Siddique, T. (2001) Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Overview. GeneReviews. 1-27
  • Compston, A.; Coles, A. (2008). Multiple sclerosis. The Lancet, 372(9648): 1502-1517
  • Rubin, S.M. (2013). Management of multiple sclerosis: an overview. Dis Mon. 59(7):253-260