Nerves control voluntary muscles and are responsible for sending information through the spinal cord to the brain. When conditions are present to interrupt the electrical messages that nerves pass back and forth to control these muscles, the conditions that result are considered to be a neuromuscular disorder. Additionally, communication is broken when neurons (nerve cells) are unhealthy or die. As a result, muscles break down to the point of atrophy.
Neuromuscular disorders occur for many reasons, including: inflammation, gene mutation, immune and metabolic system problems, heredity, drug complications, or toxicity. All of these causes can manifest in different types of neuromuscular disorders, and these are the most common types:
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is also recognized as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The devastating neuromuscular disorder was named for the New York Yankees’ player who retired from baseball in 1939 after developing the disease. ALS is perhaps the most recognized neuromuscular disorder. It is progressive in nature and there’s no cure.
Muscle weakness, stiffness, or both characterize ALS. Eventually, all muscles under voluntary control will be affected, as neurons in the upper and lower parts of the body die and messages from the brain to the muscles cease. The disease progresses to the degree that the brain no longer controls bodily functions – everything halts. The patient loses the ability to do anything, including the ability to breathe. Most ALS patients suffer respiratory failure within five years of diagnosis.
Muscular dystrophy is an inherited disease. As with all neuromuscular disorders, it is characterized by muscles that weaken and lose function as the disease progresses. Healthy muscle can’t form because abnormal genes are present, which interrupt the process that builds healthy muscle. There is more than one type of muscular dystrophy, but the most common type begins during childhood and is more prevalent in boys. The less common types don’t occur until adulthood.
Multiple sclerosis, also known as MS, develops when myelin, which protects the nerves, is attacked by the patient’s immune system. Myelin consists of fatty tissue that surrounds the nerve fibers. Nerves become damaged without the myelin’s protection, and scar tissue is formed. The damage around the nerve fibers and the resulting scar tissue prohibits receipt of nerve messages from the brain, which causes the nerves to stop working correctly. The patient is unable to feel and move compared to before progression of the disease. Muscle weakness and spasms occur, causing the patient to have trouble walking. Fatigue with a numbing and tingling sensation also occurs, along with depression.
Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune disease where the muscles weaken but don’t atrophy. The muscles that are primarily affected are those responsible for all the body’s moving parts and for breathing. The name, taken from Greek, means “grave” muscle weakness.
There isn’t a cure for myasthenia gravis, though some therapies are showing promise and improving the patient’s quality of life, as symptoms of the disease can be controlled.
Internal Medicine Expertise in South Carolina
SC Internal Medicine Associates and Rehabilitation, LLC, offers on-site diagnostic testing for neurological disorders. If you or a loved one is showing symptoms of a neuromuscular disorder, please call for an appointment right away to get the answers you need.
Call us at (803) 749-1111, or request an appointment using our online form. We look forward to helping you improve your neurological and overall health.