August 17, 2006

People with Lou Gehrig disease are living longer

NEW TORK -- Compared to years past, people who come down with Lou Gehrig disease nowadays seem to have slower disease progression and to live long. Nonetheless, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, as the disease is known formally, is still always fatal, ultimately.

Baylor University researchers, reporting in the Archives of Neurology, have not found any specific factor to account for the improvements in recent years.

Dr. Adam Czaplinski and colleagues in Houston, Texas analyzed survival time and disease progression in two groups: 647 patients diagnosed with ALS between 1984 and 1999, and 394 patients diagnosed between 1999 and 2004.

The average survival after symptom onset was 3.22 years for patients in the first group compared with 4.32 years for patients in the more recent group.

Time to "a clinically evident change in a patient's clinical status and ability to perform activities of daily living" was 10 months in the current era compared with 9 months in ALS patients treated in earlier years.

The researchers observe that the improvement in outcome could not be attributed to any particular ALS-specific treatment, but they say they cannot rule out an effect of concurrent illnesses, "which could have influenced medical treatment and survival."

The researchers conclude that that there are other possible interpretations of the findings, including the possibility that there has been "a fundamental change in the natural history of the disease."

SOURCE: Archives of Neurology, August 2006.