Early symptoms of Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as ALS, include muscle weakness in the hands, arms or legs, twitching of the muscles and difficulty projecting the voice, describes the ALS Association. In more advanced stages, patients have trouble swallowing and breathing, and often feel short of breath.
The earliest symptoms of ALS are often so slight that they are overlooked by patients, explains the ALS Association. Symptoms appear in different orders for different patients. Some may first notice that they have difficulty lifting objects, while others may first experience slurred speech. As the disease develops, however, all patients eventually experience extreme muscle weakness, and paralysis that spreads from the legs and arms towards the trunk of the body, eventually preventing patients from swallowing, speaking and breathing.
Most patients live for between three and five years after being diagnosed with ALS, according to the ALS Association, but a small number live for 10 years or longer. At the latest stages of the disease, patients require ventilator support in order to breath. Since the sensory neurons are not affected by the condition, patients retain the abilities to taste, hear, smell and sense touch.
There is no single test to detect ALS, according to the ALS Association. Typically, this disease is diagnosed by ruling out other possible explanations for a patient's symptoms. A combination of tests including spinal taps, muscle biopsies, blood and urine studies may be used to diagnose ALS.