Diagnosing Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) requires signs of damage to both upper (brain) and lower (spinal) neurons not attributed to other causes. Because other conditions may produce similar symptoms, screening for ALS involves signs observed in physical and neurological examinations, and tests that rule out other problems.
Among the tests for Lou Gehrig’s disease are:
- Blood tests and urine exams
- Acerebrospinal fluid examination (spinal tap) to look for infection or other issues
- Electromyogram to measure electrical activity between the neurons and muscles. Recently clinician have been using the El Escorial criteria, which allow more standardized diagnosis.
- Genetic testing, particularly if ALS occurs in the family
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce detailed views of the brain tissue
- A muscle biopsy to check for disorders that interfere with the function of muscle fiber
- Nerve conduction study that may reveal peripheral nerve damage or muscle disease (myopathy)
- Respiratory testing
Due to the complexity of diagnosing ALS, and the similarity of symptoms caused by other serious conditions, the interdisciplinary neurological team works together, combining specialized skills to verify an accurate determination.