Neuromuscular Disorders

Neuromuscular disorders affect the nerves that control your voluntary muscles. Voluntary muscles are the ones you can control, like in your arms and legs. Your nerve cells, also called neurons, send the messages that control these muscles. When the neurons become unhealthy or die, communication between your nervous system and muscles breaks down. As a result, your muscles weaken and waste away. The weakness can lead to twitching, cramps, aches and pains, and joint and movement problems. Sometimes it also affects heart function and your ability to breathe.

Examples of neuromuscular disorders include

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a nervous system disease that attacks nerve cells called neurons in your brain and spinal cord. These neurons transmit messages from your brain and spinal cord to your voluntary muscles - the ones you can control, like in your arms and legs. At first, this causes mild muscle problems. Some people notice

  • Trouble walking or running
  • Trouble writing
  • Speech problems

Eventually, you lose your strength and cannot move. When muscles in your chest fail, you cannot breathe. A breathing machine can help, but most people with ALS die from respiratory failure.

The disease usually strikes between age 40 and 60. More men than women get it. No one knows what causes ALS. It can run in families, but usually it strikes at random. There is no cure. Medicines can relieve symptoms and, sometimes, prolong survival.

 

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a nervous system disease that affects your brain and spinal cord. It damages the myelin sheath, the material that surrounds and protects your nerve cells. This damage slows down or blocks messages between your brain and your body, leading to the symptoms of MS. They can include

  • Visual disturbances
  • Muscle weakness
  • Trouble with coordination and balance
  • Sensations such as numbness, prickling, or "pins and needles"
  • Thinking and memory problems

No one knows what causes MS. It may be an autoimmune disease, which happens when your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake. Multiple sclerosis affects women more than men. It often begins between the ages of 20 and 40. Usually, the disease is mild, but some people lose the ability to write, speak, or walk.

There is no single test for MS. Doctors use a medical history, physical exam, neurological exam, MRI, and other tests to diagnose it. There is no cure for MS, but medicines may slow it down and help control symptoms. Physical and occupational therapy may also help.

 

Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis is disease that causes weakness in the muscles under your control. It happens because of a problem in communication between your nerves and muscles. Myasthenia gravis is anautoimmune disease. Your body's own immune system makes antibodies that block or change some of the nerve signals to your muscles. This makes your muscles weaker.

Common symptoms are trouble with eye and eyelid movement, facial expression and swallowing. But it can also affect other muscles. The weakness gets worse with activity, and better with rest..

There are medicines to help improve nerve-to-muscle messages and make muscles stronger. With treatment, the muscle weakness often gets much better. Other drugs keep your body from making so many abnormal antibodies. There are also treatments which filter abnormal antibodies from the blood or add healthy antibodies from donated blood. Sometimes surgery to take out the thymus gland helps.

For some people, myasthenia gravis can go into remission and they do not need medicines. The remission can be temporary or permanent. If you have myasthenia gravis, it is important to follow your treatment plan. If you do, you can expect your life to be normal or close to it.

 

Spinal Muscular Atrophy

Spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) is a genetic disease that attacks nerve cells, called motor neurons, in the spinal cord. These cells communicate with your voluntary muscles - the ones you can control, like in your arms and legs. As the neurons die, the muscles weaken. This can affect walking, crawling, breathing, swallowing, and head and neck control.

SMA runs in families. Parents usually have no symptoms, but still carry the gene. Genetic counseling is important if the disease runs in your family.

There are many types of SMA. Some of them are fatal. Some people have a normal life expectancy. It depends on the type and how it affects breathing. There is no cure. Treatments help with symptoms and prevent complications. They may include machines to help with breathing, nutritional support, physical therapy, and medicines.

 

Many neuromuscular diseases are genetic, which means they run in families or there is a mutation in your genes. Sometimes, an immune system disorder can cause them. Most of them have no cure. The goal of treatment is to improve symptoms, increase mobility and lengthen life.

 

Information courtesy of the U.S. National Library of Medicine

 

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