Neuromuscular disorders represent a spectrum of nerve-related diseases and conditions that affect the body’s voluntary muscles – the ones you can control. Neuromuscular disorders cause the weakening of muscles in the body because of interrupted communication between the nervous system and the muscles it controls. Typically, these diseases can be managed to improve quality and length of life, but are incurable. The most common neuromuscular disorders are:
- Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
- Lambert-Eaton Syndrome
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Myasthenia Gravis
- Peripheral Neuropathy
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Neuromuscular Disorders
Symptoms are primarily muscle-related and can include sharp or dull pain, twitching and uncontrolled movements, cramps, and problems moving easily or in a coordinated manner. Muscle weakness or rigidity are common symptoms as well. Exact symptoms and progression of the disease will largely depend on which neuromuscular disorder the patient suffers from. Other symptoms can include:
- Droopy eyelids
- Vision problems
- Trouble breathing or swallowing
Neuromuscular disorders are typically diagnosed with a full medical examination and diagnostic testing such as electromyography or EMG.
Causes of Neuromuscular Disorders
Common causes of neuromuscular disorders include heredity and genetic mutations that may be present from birth or early childhood. Other causes can include autoimmune disorders and exposure to environmental toxins. Ultimately, we do not have a complete understanding of the causes, single or multiple, of neuromuscular disorders.
Treatments for Neuromuscular Disorders
There are no curative treatments for neuromuscular disorders and most treatment plans revolve around the management of symptoms.
Because the muscles begin to waste away, maintaining muscle tone, when possible, can alleviate symptoms. Therefore, patients with neuromuscular disorders are encouraged to exercise when possible and able. Exercise is not always directly beneficial to symptoms, rather it is important to general health, therefore contributing to overall well-being.
Surgery can be indicated as treatment in some cases, especially when spasticity begins to interfere with daily living or becomes especially painful. Not all patients will benefit from surgery.
Botulinum Toxin or BOTOX has shown promise in relieving some of the symptoms of neuromuscular disorders and can be considered a viable treatment option for some patients.